Students in the Denali Borough School District are heading back to the classroom full time today, after a sudden week of partial in-person/partial distance learning, brought upon by two positive COVID-19 cases reported in non-residents earlier this month.

The risk level has now dropped back down to low, from medium, at the recommendation of the Denali Borough School District Health Level Advisory Committee.

“The decision is taken after considering additional information learned about the visitors to our area, who tested positive soon after their visit,” according to Denali Borough School Superintendent Dan Polta.

The visitors had negative test results before traveling to the Denali Borough, but tested positive immediately after their visit, Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. Since they were likely infectious during their time in the Denali Borough, the risk level rose and full-time, in-person classes were suspended last week. Instead, students attended class in person just two days a week, while two additional days became distance learning days. Friday was used for teacher planning/professional development and for student support.

Officials now feel that the risk level can be lowered once again.

The visitors left the Denali Borough community on Sept. 3, more than two weeks ago, Polta added. There has been no indication of transmission to others.

“There continues to be a very concerning trend in the spread of the coronavirus in our state,” Polta wrote in a letter to families. “This week the state’s overall transmission rate rose above 1.0. This means, that on average for each confirmed infection more than one additional individual is infected.

“Therefore, the total number of active cases are growing rather than declining as individuals recover.”

The infection rate in Fairbanks continues to rise and the risk level there remains high. The same is true of Anchorage. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough moved from low risk to medium risk last week.

“As we move to low risk for our schools, please remember that our collective actions outside of our school buildings also impact the ability for our students to participate with in-person learning,” Polta wrote. “Maintaining physical distance, wearing face coverings, sanitizing our hands, and limiting the number of close contacts are all actions we can take to support the health of our community.”

The in-person classes will continue with social distancing in the classrooms, required mask wearing, and keeping students in small groups. K-8 remain with their own grades all day, even for lunch and recess. Students are also encouraged to wash and/or sanitize hands often during the day.

The Denali Borough, to date, has recorded very low numbers of positive COVID cases. The borough’s free testing program has provided more than 500 tests since it began. That program is expected to continue at least through the end of the year. 

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.