Cherry Creek School District moves entirely to online classes as Arapahoe County virus spike continues

COVID-19 trend shows little sign of slowing despite heightened restrictions

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As the daily rate of new COVID-19 cases continues on a steep climb in Arapahoe County, Cherry Creek School District announced that all students who attend in-person classes will move to online classes in the coming weeks.

In a letter to the community, Superintendent Scott Siegfried noted that Nov. 5 is the ninth day in a row that the district's tracker of coronavirus data has posted a “red zone” rating.

“The virus is now at a dangerous level in our community, and we have seen a sustained trend in the data,” Siegfried wrote in the Nov. 5 announcement.

The school district uses a four-part system of tracking local coronavirus data to determine whether it will hold classes in-person or entirely online. It includes Arapahoe County's COVID-19 test-positivity rate; the county's hospitalizations; its daily case count; its “incidence rate,” which is another way to measure new cases; and the number of active cases among staff and among students in the school district.

Each of the six data pieces entails a score of up to 2 points, so each day's total score can be up to 12 points.  

If the points are 7 or greater, it means the district deems it safe to continue in-person class. If it's 5 or fewer, the metric suggests moving to entirely online class. Only a “sustained seven- to 14-day change” can cause the district to move into or out of in-person classes.

On Nov. 5, the district scored a 3, its lowest rating since a downward trend in the score began in late October.

Cherry Creek School District's change to remote learning means middle and high school students were to finish in-person classes the week of Nov. 2, and teachers will have Nov. 9 and Nov. 10 to prepare for the transistion, according to the letter. The students would move to online classes on Nov. 11.

Preschool and elementary students were to have their last day of in-person classes on Nov. 11. Teachers were to have Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 to prepare, and those students would move to online classes on Nov. 16.

Unclear on how long

Siegfried, the district's head official, expressed hope that the shift to entirely remote classes is “short-lived, and students are again in class very soon,” he wrote.

But it's unclear when the virus' trend in Arapahoe County will break. Since early September, Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties have seen — by far — their largest sustained increase in the rate of daily new recorded cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The spike has been most pronounced in Adams, still steep in Arapahoe, and less so, but still notable, in Douglas, according to data from the Tri-County Health Department. That's the local health agency for the three counties.

Advances in the availability of COVID-19 testing since the start of the pandemic make comparisons across all months difficult — testing was scarce in March, and recorded case numbers back then didn't reflect the true extent of the virus' spread. But those three counties' daily trend of cases far outpaces their numbers from even the “second wave” of recorded cases this summer, which occurred as testing capacity had expanded.

'Data dump' a factor

Adding to Cherry Creek's data woes is a so-called “data dump” within the past few weeks due to a delay in reporting by a large local health care provider, according to the school district.

“The data was not reported at the time it was collected, and so it looks like an influx of positive cases all at once, when really the cases occurred over the past month,” the district says on its website.

Siegfried had hoped that the data dump “would be a single high point on our scale that we would quickly come down from, but we did not,” he wrote in his letter. “The data since that time is actually worse and therefore causes this move.”

Cherry Creek's internal data continues to show that virus' spread “is minimal inside schools,” Siegfried wrote. “However, the level of spread in the community is so significant that we are seeing increased student and staff cases coming into the schools from the community making it more difficult to operate.”

The district this school year has operated on a “blended” plan for grades six through 12 that puts half of students in school Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the other half attending Thursday and Friday. Families had the option to put their students in the district's online program.

As of July 29, more than 9,400 students had registered for fully online school. The district includes roughly 55,000 students.

County virus restrictions rise

After weeks of rising case counts and mounting pressure on the health care system, state officials moved Arapahoe County to safer-at-home level 2 — now known as level yellow after the state switched to color identifiers to avoid confusion — on Oct. 28.

The change affects capacity for businesses, restaurants, places of worship, and other locations and activities.

Level orange, which Arapahoe appears to be on track toward, is one step short of a stay-at-home order.

Colorado's safer-at-home policy came after the statewide stay-at-home order ended in spring. In mid-September, the state broke the safer-at-home policy into three levels — now blue, yellow and orange — that counties qualify for based on how dire the local virus' spread is. If the trend becomes severe enough, counties may be moved back to stay-at-home orders.

See what restrictions each level includes here on page 6. See which level each county throughout the state is under on the state's website here.

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