NewsCoronavirus

Actions

Multiple COVID-19 outbreaks reported at Denver metro schools as omicron spreads

Thomas Jefferson High School
Posted at 11:33 AM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 13:33:02-05

DENVER — The omicron variant continues to spread in Colorado, making up 100% of all new cases, according to CDPHE.

It's made its way inside schools, as districts are now reporting multiple outbreaks, even those with measures in place.

As demands for safer learning environments grow, a group of students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver is planning to walk out next week if Denver Public Schools doesn't meet their demands.

"[We have] 545 signatures so far. I think it's amazing," 10th grader Haven Coleman said Saturday.

She is one of five students who helped craft a petition on Change.org. The students are demanding the district provide schools with N95 or KN95 masks, improve filtration in classrooms, conduct COVID-19 testing twice a week, improve and integrate virtual learning and add weather-protected outdoor spaces.

"We can see there are still tons of kids getting sick, still tons of outbreaks, and we need things to change," Coleman said.

Despite DPS implementing a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff, and requiring masks for everyone regardless of vaccination status, the district is reporting at least 58 schools have five or more active cases. Those schools meet CDPHE's definition of an outbreak, but a final determination will have to be made.

At Coleman's school, there are at least 20 reported cases, but she fears that number may be higher.

"I know that our district has a lot more mandates than other districts. It's still not enough, though," she said.

In Douglas County, where there are no vaccine or mask requirements for teachers or students, the district is reporting outbreaks in at least five schools. But some parents say more may be added to that list soon.

"We don't know the nature of the exposure. We don't know the true risk to our child because there are so many cases at the school at this point, so it's upsetting," parent Amy Winkler said.

She received an email from her child's middle school Friday, Mountain Ridge, informing her that administrators had learned of more than 10 positive cases.

A spokesperson with the Douglas County School District says the health department will make the final determination on whether it's considered an outbreak as the start date and relationship between the positive cases has yet to be determined.

"My kids wear masks in school, but the kids around them aren't wearing masks, so we know that they're at risk of getting COVID from them," Winkler said.

She and other parents are calling for universal masking, regardless of vaccination status, which the district moved away from on Dec. 8 when it overturned the mask mandate.

But in a video to the county, the Board of Health president said this week any restrictions will be considered using severity metrics, like hospitalizations and deaths, not case counts.

"Instead of reacting to case counts, we will respond to severity, instead of responding with fear-driven mandates and restrictions," Douglas County Board of Health president Doug Benevento said.

It's unclear how sick students with COVID-19 are becoming, especially those who are vaccinated, but Coleman says even with safety measures like a vaccine mandate and mask requirement at her school, the risk isn't worth it.

"This really sucks. We do not want to catch COVID, and we do not want to risk our lives just to get a decent education," she said.

DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero says some schools will have to go remote as omicron spreads. As of Friday, at least 13 had done so this week, according to district data.

Similarly, DCSD warns on its website if teachers or school staff are impacted by COVID-19, some classes, grades or schools may be required to go remote for at least five days. A spokesperson confirmed Saturday no schools or classes are remote.

In lieu of any mandates, the district has purchased 3,750 air purifiers to install in every classroom. It's also offering N95s and surgical masks but not requiring them.