Just a little over two weeks into the school year, COVID-19 has been confirmed at about half of the schools in the state’s largest district, although officials remain confident that classroom spread is minimal.
There were COVID cases reported at 68 Albuquerque Public Schools properties last week, accounting for 139 total cases among students and staff, according to data APS publishes on its website weekly. That was up from 27 sites and 85 cases the week before.
“We’ve seen a steady increase since returning to school, which is not surprising,” said Monica Armenta, a spokeswoman for the school district.
“We have seen COVID at at least 50% of all our schools. And what we’re seeing is almost exactly what you would get when you take a close look at community spread.”
She said COVID cases at schools closely mirror how the virus is trending in the part of the city where the school is located.
District officials believe there have been few cases of classroom spread, evidenced by relatively few numbers of positive cases at each individual site that has reported COVID this school year, Armenta said.
None of the district’s public schools has closed because of COVID. Armenta said APS currently doesn’t have a set threshold for when a school will close.
“There’s are so many nuances to this, the circumstances can change. It’s just not as simple as telling you when you get to X amount (the school will close),” Armenta said. “This is a case by case situation, and right now, today, the only thing I can say definitively is we haven’t had to close a school.”
If an APS student or teacher tests positive for COVID, he or she will have to isolate for a minimum of 10 days, or until all symptoms have been gone for 24 hours. During that isolation period, students can still complete homework assignments for their teachers, but they wouldn’t necessarily attend school virtually, said Kristine Meurer, the executive director for APS’ Student, Family, and Community Supports Division.
Individuals who are determined to have had “close contact” with a COVID-positive individual will also have to quarantine, Meurer said. There are exceptions to that, such as if the person is fully vaccinated and symptom free, he or should would not have to quarantine.
In a public briefing Wednesday, Dr. David Scrase, who leads the state departments of health and human services, said the reopening of schools makes vaccination and indoor mask-wearing all the more important.
“We have no plans whatsoever at this time to return to virtual learning,” he said. “We know kids learn better in in-person school. We just have to keep them safe.”
The Public Education Department last week dropped a rule that would have shut down schools for a period of time if there were four rapid response protocols taken at a school in a 14-day window.
“At this time, the NMPED is not closing schools but rather working with schools to develop enhanced COVID response plans,” said Carolyn Graham, a spokeswoman for the PED.
COVID cases have been confirmed at schools throughout the state. PED data shows that last Friday, there were 245 total COVID cases reported to the PED from schools in 23 counties.
Graham said about 20 schools have temporarily closed voluntarily to in-person learning because of COVID cases, including Cleveland, Los Lunas, Goddard and Belen high schools.
In Albuquerque, the Native American Community Academy, a charter school, is closed until Sept. 7 because of COVID, according to the PED.
Journal staff writer Dan McKay contributed to this report.