Sitka’s COVID rate has increased dramatically in the last week, with case counts nearing the numbers from last summer’s surge, just in time for schools to reopen after the winter holidays.   

When the Sitka School Board met on Wednesday (1-5-21) Superintendent Frank Hauser told school board members that while thousands of districts across the country have been disrupted by the highly transmissible omicron variant, he believes Sitka’s schools have plans in place to prevent local closures. 

“So since Monday, there have been over 3700 school disruptions during this recent surge [nationally]. This is quite honestly a very shocking number and up from the last time I referenced this a few months ago. But there’s also good news at SSD. We already have a plan in place that worked to keep our schools open during the previous surge,” Hauser said. “I think we need to prepare ourselves that we’re going to see the numbers of cases associated within our schools climb, but we’re going to do everything we can to keep our schools open and all activities going.”

Hauser noted that hospitalizations of children infected with COVID are rising nationally. On Wednesday the CDC recommended a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12.

During public comment, several parents called for the school board to roll back its mask requirement for students in the new year. At the December board meeting, Hauser was hopeful that by mid-January masks would be optional in the Sitka School District. But on Wednesday night, he said the change in policy would wait until the community is on the other side of the surge. 

“Just this week, there is news out of London that cases there may have peaked,” Hauser said. “In this country, officials predict that the latest wave may peak by the end of January. So the data at this time suggests that steep and sharp wave of infection, but also one that may peak and decline quickly again. SSD’s plan is to transition from mass on the other side of this surge.” 

Hauser said the district is already ahead of many schools in the country with its COVID testing program, and still has a supply of rapid antigen tests amid national shortages. Tests are free and available for all students and staff on a weekly basis.