TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The South Central Public Health District says COVID-19 case numbers in students have more than tripled since the start of this academic year compared to 2020.
The largest amount of cases occurred among students ages 6 to 17. In September 2020, only 30 cases were recorded in students ages 6 to 10, but in September 2021, those cases reached 196. Students in the 11 to 17 age group accounted for 570 cases in September 2021 compared to 143 in September 2020.
Both school and health officials anticipated more COVID-19 cases this year because of fewer mitigation efforts, but they did not expect such high numbers.
Officials attribute the surge to several factors: fewer safety precautions, students regularly interacting with each other in close quarters, and the ongoing surge in the Magic Valley.
“There is an ongoing surge right around them that has nothing to do with school and has everything to do with this surge starting a little bit before school even started," said Brianna Bodily, spokesperson for the South Central Public Health District.
The COVID surge in schools is affecting operations in districts in a variety of ways, mostly in attendance rates and staffing issues.
“If we don’t have a substitute teacher that day, their class might be split and added to other classes," said Eva Craner, Public Information Officer for the Twin Falls School District. "A staff member who is supposed to be preparing for a class may be coming in to substitute teach instead. It really puts a big strain on our system.”
Concerns are growing as well for health officials. Despite the fact that kids are less likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, they can transmit it easily to one another and into the community.
“Not only are they in classrooms with a lot of people and then going back home and possibly transmitting disease from classroom to home, but they’re [teenagers] also often working jobs that have a lot of contact with other people,” said Bodily.
Officials from the Twin Falls School District continue to encourage students to use safety precautions to mitigate the spread. However, the board does not plan to reinstate any requirements such as mask-wearing for the time being.
Instead, if an outbreak were to occur, Craner says it would be handled at that specific school rather than implement a policy district-wide.
“Our stance this year really is on a school-by-school basis. As I mentioned, we’re seeing things kind of bubble up in one area and not in others so it often appears that one school is having a little bit of spread but another school may not be affected at all.”