Briefs

Huge dip in school COVID cases draws cautious optimism

By: - September 16, 2021 5:30 am

New social studies standards are expected be approved early next year for the 2023-2024 school year. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans / Source NM)

It might be a bright spot for New Mexico public schools fighting COVID-19. It might be an anomaly. 

Either way, Public Education Secretary-designate Kurt Steinhaus is cautiously optimistic at the 37% dip in on-campus infections. 

“When I looked at that, the first time I thought, hmm, we better double check the data and make sure they’re right. And we did go back and double check, and we think it might be a blip,” he said during an COVID-19 updated with state leaders on Wednesday. 

Here are the numbers: Last week, 504 New Mexico public school students and staff reported COVID-19 cases on campus. The week before, 806 cases were reported by people on school campuses. 

“You know the old saying if you’re a statistician: two points does not make a trend line,” he said. “So we’re going to take a look over the next two or three weeks and see if it is a trend line.”

He mentioned COVID protocols in schools such as mask requirements, required contact tracing and social distancing as successful practices that could’ve assisted with the decline in cases.

Schools are required to test unvaccinated employees weekly, while aiming to test one-quarter of students. Student tests are voluntary.

The state Department of Health is also offering districts greater access to testing options in schools.

Districts can apply for no-cost testing programs that will be offered on site by Premiere Medical Group. Or staff can also learn how to conduct testing from the DOH. The program has $63 million in federal funding available for local districts.

“We found that really what schools wanted was to have an ability to choose whether they want to do this full-service testing, or they can get trained in testing, and do it themselves and also have supplemental funding to each school,” said DOH Deputy Secretary Laura Parajón said. 

She said 62 districts are registered for the testing support. More than 30,000 staff and 180,000 students have been tested under the program. Students do need a waiver from their parents for the test, which can be accessed along with any other questions here.

Bringing vaccines to kids is also helping keep schools open. To date, 59 schools have held mobile vaccination clinics. 

Steinhaus also gave an update about schools that choose to pause in-person classes, a decision that PED left up to the local districts. He said 30 schools have made the decision to temporarily transition back into remote learning since the school year started last month.

“Let’s not relax. Let’s not let up,” he said. “Let’s stay focused on keeping our schools safe so we can keep our schools open.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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