EVANSTON — The families of a few dozen Uinta County School District No. 1 students quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure were likely delighted to learn new guidance has been issued by Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist. Uinta County Public Health Nurse Manager Kim Proffit said her office received word late on Wednesday, Sept. 23, that the state has utilized local data from school districts to change how quarantine order determinations are made.
If an individual in school is exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, that individual no longer has to quarantine — provided both individuals are properly masked as required by public health orders issued by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon. Simply put, using masks in schools now means students won’t have to be quarantined.
Keeping students in school has been the major goal voiced by district administration for the past couple of months. The new guidance is in line with what many district staff members believed to be the rules when the first district students were quarantined less than two weeks into the current school year. At that time there was frustration and confusion when students were required to quarantine even when masked, which district administration did not believe would be required but was necessary with the statewide public health guidance then in place.
The most recent COVID cases resulted in approximately 40 students and two staff members being quarantined this week after the cases were confirmed late last Friday afternoon. Three schools — Aspen Elementary, Evanston Middle School and Evanston High School — were impacted by the quarantine orders. For EHS students, it was a particularly difficult time to be quarantined during the school’s Homecoming week.
Quarantine orders had impacted student athletes as members of both the EHS football and volleyball teams had been ordered to stay home for two weeks. Proffit said, “Lots of families and their football players were happy,” when they were notified they were able to return to school and the playing field.
Proffit said the new guidance still relies on contact tracing to determine who may have been exposed whenever there is a confirmed case in the schools; however, instead of the 14-day quarantine the rules now call simply for monitoring of those individuals for 14 days, provided everyone was wearing masks.
Proffit described the new guidance as “big” and said she appreciates Harrist allowing for local input into the guidelines.
District Superintendent Ryan Thomas expressed his gratitude about the new guidance. “We appreciate very much the support public health provided to make this happen,” said Thomas. “It doesn’t change our mask mandate, but it does validate and reward our students and staff for their commitment to wearing masks in support of each other’s health. I believe these new protocols will help UCSD No. 1 reach the goal to stay in school and provide the highest quality of education possible.”
Evanston High School Principal Merle Lester was ecstatic about the development. “What a blessing!” he said. “This puts control completely in our hands.” Lester said students and staff at EHS have been doing a great job wearing masks but this will provide even more incentive because it means students won’t have to quarantine. He said he was on a conference call with individuals from around the state discussing infections in schools and there have been more than 100 students throughout Wyoming who have unknowingly gone to school while contagious with COVID-19. Each one of those students has resulted in an average of 40 other people being quarantined, yet so far there hasn’t been one documented case of transmission at school, which officials attribute to mask wearing. Lester said within minutes of receiving the news Wednesday he had phoned quarantined students and told them to return to school and practice, which he said helped a lot of “heartbreak” students had been feeling missing out on Homecoming, especially for seniors.
“I’m just super excited,” said Lester. “This just shows if we can keep our kids and staff wearing masks, we’re going to be OK.”