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Bozeman School District in the past week reported its highest weekly COVID-19 rates since the pandemic started, with case rates in the elementary schools higher than those in the middle and high schools.

Last school year, the district reported its greatest number of weekly cases the week before Thanksgiving with 48 adult and student cases. For the week of Nov. 5 of this year, the district reported 58 adult and student cases.

“Through this point of the 2021-22 school year, we have seen elementary transmission rates approximately 1.5 times that of our middle and high schools,” said Chad Berg, the district’s director of special education and student health, during Monday’s school board meeting.

Since Aug. 1, there have been 349 confirmed adult and student cases, with 184 from the elementary level, 61 from the middle school level, 94 from the high school level and 10 from the district administration level.

For last week, the grade bands’ adjusted cases per 100,000 over seven days also remained above the community transmission. The rates of transmission are adjusted for a population of 100,000 to compare with the community transmission rates, so it’s not the actual number of positive cases the district reported for a week.

The county rate per 100,000 over a week was 355 cases. The high schools reported 459 cases per 100,000 and the middle schools reported 591 cases per 100,000. The elementary schools reported 968 cases per 100,000, more than double the county rate.

While cases are higher than what was seen at the peak last year, quarantines have remained lower.

“It’s a juggling act of on one hand we’re seeing the highest COVID transmission rates we’ve seen ever,” Bertram said. “… However, it’s not nearly the number of quarantines (of last year).”

As of the week of Nov. 20, 2020, 88 adults and 597 students had been quarantined up to that point in the school year. As of the week of Nov. 5, 2021, 11 adults and 278 students have been quarantined for the school year.

“We’ve been able to be much more targeted with the way we implement quarantines,” Berg said, adding that they’ve tried to minimize the impact to classrooms and students. “… We’re not at that point where we’ve seen the type of adult capacity issues we saw last year.”

The district has had to move whole classrooms into remote learning at the elementary level “at a pretty good rate,” Berg said.

The district is planning to bring together its COVID Advisory Task Force in January, following winter break. The task force, which includes district staff members, public health officials and pediatricians, would consider COVID-19 case data and decide if there should be any recommended changes to the district’s mask policy.

With vaccines now available for younger students, Bertram said it made sense to get the task force back together.

Masks are now required in all schools.

In response to a question from Trustee Gary Lusin about school-based transmission, Berg said the district has found around 24 situations where close contacts in the school have later tested positive for COVID-19 or where a group of two to four students test positive.

“That does look significantly more than what we saw last year,” Berg said.

The district doesn’t have plans to hold on-site clinics at the elementary schools or at the Willson building like it did earlier this year for high school-aged students, Berg said. With vaccines widely available through Bozeman Health and Gallatin City-County Health Department Clinics, it was looking at the demand for a clinic hosted by the district.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not a required student immunization, and the district encourages parents to talk with their pediatrician to learn more about the vaccine.

When talking about COVID-19 cases, Berg said, he didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that he’s talking about individual people with a wide variety of impacts to families.

“I don’t want that to get lost,” he said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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