Last week, the Scottsdale Unified School District asked 219 Chaparral High School students to quarantine for 14 days after they were in close contact with COVID-19-positive students on campus.
A total 18 Chaparral High School students have tested positive for the virus, Superintendent Scott Menzel told the Governing Board Oct. 20.
He said the district has received reports of several additional cases but is still awaiting confirmation from the county health department.
At least 10 of the students with lab-confirmed positive tests were on the Chaparral campus the week of Oct. 12, the first week middle and high school students returned to campus.
Menzel said the district has worked closely with county health officials to perform contact tracing and that notices went out to all families with students potentially exposed to their infected peers.
“As of today, we still don’t have any evidence outside of the athletic programs of any spread within our facilities,” Menzel said. “So, there’s no student-to-student or student-to-staff or staff-to-students spread within our classrooms.”
Chaparral had two cases connected to the school’s football team in late September that caused cancellation of two weeks of games or the varsity and junior varsity squads.
A district spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether or not additional cases were connected to the football team.
County health officials declined comment.
“Maricopa County does not discuss specific outbreaks, cases, individuals or locations,” county spokesman Ron Coleman said. “Maricopa County regularly communicates with schools and school districts to provide information so that they can make the best decisions for their situation.”
Menzel said the existing positive cases may be connected to large gatherings outside school.
“While our students and staff are doing their part while at school, activity outside of school appears to be the reason for the increase in cases noted this past week,” Menzel wrote parents.
“Many people traveled for fall break and groups of students who traveled together have become ill. Others participated in larger gatherings with friends (unmasked and not physically distanced), which also appears to have been an environment where the virus was passed to others.”
The superintendent asked families to take recommendations from health officials seriously and urged against feeding into the increased political polarization surrounding COVID-19.
“Dismissal of the threat of COVID is as much of a problem as paralyzing fear that can lead to inaction and full shutdown,” Menzel wrote.
“The false choices of pretending that COVID is not a threat and, therefore, living as though it is no more of a challenge than the flu, or closing everything down until we have a vaccine, undermine the thoughtful and balanced approach that is necessary for our community to weather this storm and come through on the other side stronger as a result.”
As of Oct. 15, Chaparral was the only SUSD school with more than two confirmed cases of COVID-19.
There were 25 total lab-confirmed cases among students and staff in SUSD as of Oct. 15, including three at Arcadia High, two at Hopi Elementary and one each at Cocopah Middle School, Copper Ridge School, Ingleside Middle School, Kiva Elementary School, Pima Traditional School and the district’s Education Center in downtown Scottsdale, according to a dashboard published by the district.
When the district is notified of a positive case, that information given to a school’s nurse, who then makes contact with county health officials.
“In some cases, the county has contacted us about a case, in others, we report it to them and they initiate a process to determine whether it is a confirmed case,” according to Menzel’s letter.
When the county confirms a positive case, that information is relayed back to the school’s nurse and the district begins the process of identifying anyone who was in close contact with a positive case.
The Centers for Disease Control recently revised its definition of close contact to mean any individual who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for a total 15 minutes over 24 hours.
Previously, the CDC defined close contact as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 consecutive minutes.
Menzel indicated the district and county are utilizing the new definition.
Individuals who are in close contact with a positive case are required to quarantine for 14 days even if they are not sick or showing symptoms.
The district said any decision to close a school would be made in partnership with the county.
With respect to the Chaparral outbreak “the health department is not recommending closure at this time, but we are carefully monitoring the data and remain in close contact with public health officials,” Menzel wrote.
Menzel said students and families can get tested for free through a partnership between Maricopa County and Banner Health.
Menzel said SUSD is also in early discussions with Embry Women’s Health about the possibility of setting up a testing site on SUSD property.
Embry is looking to replace an existing testing site on the Scottsdale Community College campus that is scheduled to close Oct. 30.
“We don’t know whether or not we’re going to be able to accommodate that, because we don’t think we can put a drive-in testing site on a campus where we have kids coming on a regular basis,” Menzel said. “And so we’ve got limited options, but I do think it’s important to say that we are looking at all of the available resources.”
At the board meeting on Oct. 20, Menzel addressed frustration some in the community have had with the time it takes to learn about potential exposure.
Menzel said the district will notify families immediately when there are suspected cases in the classroom but will not send out quarantine letters until cases are confirmed by the county.
There are also concerns that an influx of quarantined students will negatively impact learning for students in the enhanced distance learning model.
All students in quarantine will also go back to the EDL model until they are cleared to return to school.