Cherry Creek School District quarantines hit similar mark to previous quarter

Full in-person classes, rising vaccinations, falling community cases make for mix of factors


As a number of local factors surrounding the coronavirus pandemic changed, Cherry Creek School District's number of individuals who were told to quarantine during the fourth quarter — from March 13 through about the end of the school year — reached essentially the same level it did in the previous quarter.

In the third quarter, from January through around the quarter's end on March 12, the district alerted 4,066 students and staff to quarantine, according to a March 10 district letter to the community.

From the start of fourth quarter to roughly the end of the school year, the district told 4,063 staff and students to quarantine.

In that time, the local landscape of the pandemic changed: The rate of daily new cases of COVID-19 in Arapahoe County hit a steady climb and then a steep decline in late April, the rate of daily vaccinations in Arapahoe continued to grow through late April, and middle and high schools in Cherry Creek reopened for full-time, in-person classes on April 5 — all developments that could have impacted coronavirus trends in schools.

Earlier this semester, the Douglas County, Jefferson County, Littleton, Adams 12 Five Star and Weld Re-8 school districts had made similar decisions on full-time, in-person classes. The Westminster Public Schools district was providing full-time, in-person learning at all levels since the semester began.

Roughly two weeks following the start of full, in-person learning at Douglas County secondary schools, the local health department temporarily shut down one high school amid multiple outbreaks in its building and, days later, asked three additional schools to follow suit.

Data from each quarter

In Cherry Creek, the third quarter's quarantine numbers were about the same as for the entire first semester. From Aug. 14 through the fall semester, more than 3,900 students were told to quarantine, according to a report for a Dec. 14 Cherry Creek school board meeting.

That figure represented about 7% of the district's total enrollment of roughly 55,000 students. In that same time, 553 staff members — a figure representing about 6% of the district's employment — were told to quarantine.

Amid a steep climb in virus cases in Arapahoe County, the school district moved all students who attended in-person classes to online schooling in mid-November.

In the school year's first quarter specifically — through early October — the district told roughly 1,200 students and 150 staff members to quarantine.

The district sent letters alerting families about COVID-19 cases or observations of symptoms regarding dozens of schools and a couple of programs during the fall semester, according to the district's website. Each quarantine or other student dismissal triggers one letter sent by the district to families of students at the affected school. In that time, 236 letters were sent.

From the start of spring semester to early March, the district had already sent 214 letters, according to its website.

In the fourth quarter, the district sent 207 letters, according to its website, which listed letters through May 14.

In the fall semester, not all the letters announced quarantines — some cases were expected to have no impact on other students or staff. Eventually, the district changed its policy on letters to “only communicate regarding cases that have an impact on the school,” such as causing a quarantine.

Testing a possible factor

Different factors may have contributed to the high number of students and staff quarantined during third quarter in comparison to the fall, Smith, the spokesperson, has said.

"We were full remote for much of the second quarter due to the spike in COVID cases in Colorado and Arapahoe County at that time, so we would not have had any quarantines during that time," Smith has said. "There were also fewer cases and quarantines at the start of the school year, building up to when we decided to switch to full remote in November and December."

Another difference this semester was the increased availability of COVID-19 testing, which could identify more cases and lead to more quarantines.

Starting in January, both Cherry Creek students and staff have had access to no-cost COVID tests through the district's partnership with an initiative called COVIDCheck Colorado. Students and staff at elementary school sites have had access to regular no-cost COVID testing to allow for early identification of COVID-positive children and adults who could also be asymptomatic.

Middle and high school students have been able to access no-cost COVID testing at either of the district's drive-up locations. Tests can be scheduled through school nurses.

But the breadth of testing accessed is unclear. The district generally does not track numbers or percentages of all students or staff who are tested, Smith has said.

The district also offered free COVID-19 testing for all staff in the fall, but its number of staff members tested may have been less than 40% in September and early October, according to district data.

Approximately 50% of all the district's quarantined students had gotten tested for COVID-19 during the early part of spring semester, according to John Douglas, head of Tri-County Health Department. That's the local health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

It appears that testing of quarantined students specifically, though, may not account for many of the cases that triggered quarantines. During the third quarter, of the 4,066 students and staff listed as quarantined, only 17 individuals became knowingly COVID-positive during quarantine, the district's March 10 letter to the community said.

The fourth quarter's posting of similar quarantine numbers as in the third quarter — despite the return of full-time in-person classes — could be influenced by rising vaccinations and recently declining case rates.

“There haven't been too many reports where schools drive community transmission — it seems to be virtually the opposite,” Douglas, the health chief, has said.

Staff COVID-19 cases

At the start of this school year, Cherry Creek district operated under a hybrid, or “blended,” model for grades six through 12 that placed half of students in school Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the other half attending Thursday and Friday.

The district decided to move entirely to online classes in early November amid a steep climb in the daily rate of new COVID-19 cases in Arapahoe County. The district brought the blended in-person schedule back in January.

A report to the Cherry Creek school board on March 8 showed that when the district offered in-person classes earlier this school year — starting in August and ending in early November — the district saw 127 COVID-19 cases among staff. From Jan. 11 to early March with in-person class, the district saw 119 cases. And from Nov. 10 to Jan. 11, roughly when the district was on fully remote or at-home classes, the district saw 446 cases.

The Nov. 10 to Jan. 11 period also includes Arapahoe County's highest daily case numbers — through early December — in the entire pandemic. It also includes the county's post-Christmas spike.

From the start of fourth quarter “to the present,” according to district numbers provided May 27, the district saw 890 positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students.

May 28 was the last day of school for all schools in the district, according to Cherry Creek's website.


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.