GREAT FALLS — The increasing number of coronavirus cases is creating staffing challenges in Great Falls Public Schools.
During a Board of Health meeting on November 4th, GFPS Superintendent Tom Moore told County Public Health Officer Trisha Gardner that staff members are being quarantined without enough substitute teachers to take their spots. He said a lack of staff members would be the determining factor for shutting down schools again. Gardner said she is comfortable with the district's mitigation strategies right now and school is an essential activity.
District officials confirmed there were 91 staff quarantined Friday afternoon, between those who had been in close contact with someone who tested positive and positive cases. There were several more staff out with symptoms. CDC guidelines recommend quarantining for 14 days if a person has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
"The existing staff is working double, triple time," Moore told MTN News. "We had two middle school principals yesterday; they were teaching classes all day."
The concerns come after Whittier Elementary School closed down the school building for a week due to a large number of staff members in quarantine. In-person learning will begin again on Monday, November 9.
Coronavirus cases in the school district are relatively higher than they were when the district first started reporting daily updates — there were 81 active cases in the district as of Thursday. Moore told MTN News he's encountered confusion from parents about why some schools with less active cases can be shut down, while other schools with more active cases stay open. He said it comes down to staffing: when more staff members have to quarantine because they've been deemed "close contacts" to someone who has tested positive, then it's more likely the school will move to remote learning.
"In any other given year, you might have the cold or flu and that might take you out of work for a few days," said Kerry Dattilo, GFPS human resources director. "Now, due to different regulations, we're seeing people out for two to three weeks."
There are about 200 substitute teachers in the school district, according to Dattilo, compared to about 750 teachers. The GFPS Board of Trustees passed a pay raise for substitutes before the year started, to between $90 and $115 daily, depending on licensure and time in the district, hoping to avoid this situation. The district just hired seven more substitute teachers yesterday, and Dattilo said will continue to hire more as applications come in.
But for many, including those at the helm, uncertainty still looms.
"Whether it's a day, or if it's quarantine for 14 days, staff or students need to be prepared to learn at home or to teach at home during that time period," Moore said.
There were 986 new cases and 11 new deaths added to the total on the Montana COVID-19 tracking site on Friday morning; the data below is from the official Montana website on November 6:
- HOSPITALIZATIONS: There are 437 current hospitalizations, and a cumulative total of 1,447 hospitalizations.
- DEATHS: The cumulative number of deaths in Montana is now 418.
- ACTIVE CASES: There are 13,921 active COVID-19 cases in Montana.
- CASES & RECOVERIES: There have been 36,968 cumulative cases, with 23,608 people listed as recovered.
- TESTING: There were 3,572 completed tests, for a cumulative state-wide total of 523,596.
The counties reporting the largest number of new cases are Cascade with 147, Yellowstone with 105, and Gallatin with 98.
Numbers reported by the state each day occasionally differ from those reported by county public health departments due to periodic lag times in reporting data to the state. We encourage people to check the official website and/or Facebook page of their respective county health department for any information that is not yet included in the state's daily updates. Based on data from the state and county health departments, MTN News is reporting the following:
- Deaths: 455
- Total Cases: 38,246
- Active: 12,600
- Recoveries: 25,194
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CONTEXT: Not every person who tests positive actually becomes ill or exhibits symptoms. Many do not; of those who do become sick, some experience mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Others, however, do require hospitalization, as noted in the daily update on the number of people hospitalized.
However, every person who tests positive for COVID-19 has the potential to spread the virus to other people, including family members and friends, which is why public health officials continue to encourage everyone to wear a mask and maintain at least the recommended six feet of "social distance" when in public.
The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) released data in late August which emphasizes that people with contributing or underlying medical conditions are at much greater risk of dying from COVID-19. Click here to read more.