By Lyndsie Kiebert
The Lake Pend Oreille School District Board of Trustees held a special meeting Dec. 29 to discuss possible changes to the district’s operating plan amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, ultimately deciding that teachers and staff should continue with in-person instruction and current safety practices when school comes back into session Jan. 4.
Under the district’s current Yellow operations plan, in-person instruction happens during a shortened school day for all grades, with protocols like masks, distancing and increased sanitation in place to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Online learning resources are available for all students, and those who choose to attend school entirely online are able to do so.
Board members lauded the flexibility of the plan currently in place.
“The infection rates in our schools are lower than the community’s,” said Trustee Gary Suppiger. “I think we could make the argument that we are actually protecting our students by keeping them in school. We’re the only school district I know of that requires masks. We have a stricter protocol than our surrounding school districts and I think it’s paid dividends for us.
“I applaud our administration for coming up with the plan that we approved, and I see no reason to change it,” he added.
The board acknowledged that the consequences of returning to in-person school after the long holiday break won’t be apparent until school is back in session for a few days, and trustees said they could revisit the plan at their Jan. 12 meeting if the district sees a dramatic increase in cases.
LPOSD Superintendent Tom Albertson put out a plea to “families who have traveled significantly outside of the area or had people come from outside of the area” to be extra cautious, “not just for yourselves, but for the other students and staff who are in our school district.”
“We really want to keep our schools open, and that is really a cooperation by all,” he said.
Bonner County remains in the red category for COVID-19 Risk Level, according to the Panhandle Health District. PHD reported 1,955 cases of COVID-19 in Bonner County as of Dec. 30, with 583 of those currently active. The health district also reports that 14 people have died in the county due to the virus.
As for Idaho as a whole, Health and Welfare officials logged 1,340 new cases of the virus on Dec. 30, bringing the state’s total to 139,864 since tracking began in March. IDHW also reports that 1,403 Idahoans have died of COVID-19.
Testing queue announced
Another metric the state began tracking in recent weeks is the number of coronavirus vaccine doses that have been distributed. As of Dec. 30, that number had reached 13,686.
“The availability of the safe COVID-19 vaccine is a lifeline in our pandemic fight, and I know there are a lot of questions about vaccine distribution,” Gov. Brad Little stated in a press release Dec. 30 announcing that Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials will be holding weekly virtual press briefings about the vaccine moving forward. “My administration is committed to transparency and getting out the best information on the vaccine as effectively as possible.”
Officials shared a tentative timeline Dec. 29 detailing when certain groups could expect to access the vaccine. Health care personnel and long-term care facility residents and staff are currently being prioritized, with essential workers and people 75 years of age or older next in line, likely sometime in February. People over 65 and anyone with high-risk medical conditions should be able to access the vaccine in April, and doses could be available to the general public by May, according to the most recent estimates.
All information about the vaccination queue and ongoing safety guidelines is available at coronavirus.idaho.gov.
“We want to make the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine available to as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” said IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen. “The best way to ensure that is to make sure Idahoans have the most up-to-date information we can provide so they know what to expect and when.”
The first virtual COVID-19 vaccine press briefing will take place Jan. 5. IDHW will share details, including times and how to participate, before each briefing.
Idaho Legislature to convene Jan. 11
Despite a request from House and Senate Democratic leadership to postpone the 2021 legislative session until April 5, Idaho GOP leadership announced that the session would move forward as planned, convening on Monday, Jan. 11.
The Idaho Falls Post Register reports that the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities and 30 other groups sent a letter to legislative leadership and Little last week, with ICDD Director Christine Pisani stating that participating in the session “is a life-threatening activity for those people with developmental disabilities who need a COVID-19 safe atmosphere to have their voice heard during the public policy decision making process.”
In response to those concerns, House Republicans released a statement about precautions being taken at the Capitol to reduce the risk of infection. Among those listed precautions are social distancing in committee rooms, desk-mounted plexiglass shields, the availability of free masks and a requirement that all legislative staff wear masks when outside of their offices.
The statement did not address whether lawmakers or visiting members of the public will be required to wear masks, but, according to the Register, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, “has said he opposes mandating masks for lawmakers.” The building is exempt from Boise’s mask mandate, leaving the rules up to elected officials inside the Capitol.
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