School board member pushes back current COVID plan to MCSD


Students enter and exit the building on the first day of school at Moffat County High School.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

Sullivan recommends requiring masks; some council members agree

Dr Elise Sullivan – the only Moffat County School District board member who currently practices in the medical field – took a stand on Thursday against the school district’s current plan of operations with respect to COVID-19. Sullivan presented statistics and scientific findings at the school board workshop on Thursday and recommended that the district start requiring masks.

“I think what we all realize is that it’s just not going to go away,” Sullivan said. “It will continue to infect unimmunized people until we achieve collective immunity. And unfortunately, this herd immunity barrier has become higher and higher with the Delta variant. “

In his presentation, Sullivan noted that the Moffat County School District was not following recommendations from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Currently, the MCSD does not require masks in school buildings unless the school meets certain thresholds of positivity. This week, Craig Middle School is the only school to have met that 2% positivity threshold, so CMS adults are required to wear masks. At 3% positivity, the district will require students to wear masks in that particular building. MCSD posts positive and quarantined numbers on its COVID-19 dashboard every week.

Dr Elise Sullivan, speaking as a member of the Moffat County School District Education Council, presents data on the spread of COVID-19 nationally and locally as she lobbies for masks are mandatory in Moffat County schools.
Eliza Noah / Craig Press

To gain herd immunity with the Delta variant, 90% of the population must have had the virus or been vaccinated against COVID-19, Sullivan said.

Sullivan also presented several options to reduce the risk of spread in MCSD buildings. The MCSD also suspended contact tracing after a large influx of exposures sent many students home to quarantine, a move that left potentially asymptomatic students in class. Now parents are only notified when a child in the same classroom or building tests positive, and parents decide whether or not to quarantine their child based on symptoms.

“Long-haul COVID is underestimated because of the time it can take to recover from it,” Sullivan said. “It’s like Russian roulette. You can become asymptomatic. But unfortunately, you could transfer it to a loved one, or you could just catch a seven-day flu while lying in your bed, or you could be so severe that you may need a heart transplant.

Sullivan’s suggestions include smaller classes, good ventilation, high vaccination rates, masks, good breathing behaviors (like coughing into the elbow and washing hands), and frequent surveillance tests. Sullivan also recommends masking indoors for all MCSD staff, students, and visitors. In August, Sullivan was the only board member to vote against the reopening plan presented by Superintendent Scott Pankow, primarily because it went against CDPHE guidelines and recommendations for schools.

MCSD buildings saw more transmissions indoors than last year, Sullivan said. Higher levels of transmissions in the community led to more hospitalizations at Memorial Regional Hospital, and Sullivan said several people were airlifted to receive intensive care, including one under the age of 19. .

Regarding vaccination, Sullivan also dispelled the false information she heard in her family medical practice. In his practice, patients come in and say they didn’t get the vaccine because they “probably” already had COVID-19. In fact, Sullivan said, only about 1 in 10 people who feel this way actually have the antibodies that show they’ve ever had the virus.

“I feel like a lot of people in the community are saying, ‘I think I’ve had COVID before,'” Sullivan said. “I did some antibody tests, and really, nine out of 10 people who come in, they don’t show they’ve had an infection.”

In Moffat County, less than half of residents have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This differs from the state of Colorado as a whole, which has a vaccination rate of over 75%. Lower vaccination rates lead to the spread of viral variants, which in the case of Moffat County was primarily the Delta variant. The Delta variant was found to affect young people much more strongly than the original strain.

Sullivan also expressed concern that COVID-19 patients are filling the hospital space. She said MRH has faced delays due to the full COVID-19 units. This can affect other departments in the hospital. For example, the space used for COVID patients may limit emergency space for non-COVID patients, such as heart attack patients or victims of car accidents. The HRM can support five people with high flow oxygen before the medical gas system is strained.

“My comfort level is with the capacity of the hospital,” Sullivan said. “We now have a vaccine. And it is an adult decision with adult consequences, whether you are vaccinated or not. As long as we have the capacity to take care of you, we can make these decisions as adults. In the spring, we thought that we would not reach the hospital capacity… We see a weak hospital capacity (at the HRM).

MRH can support nine patients in its COVID unit, and with delays this could mean COVID patients wait in the emergency department until another patient is released before being transferred to the unit COVID. Sullivan said a patient had to wait 19 hours to be transported to an intensive care unit that could meet his higher level of need.

“Last week, MRH tried for more than 24 hours to find an intensive care bed for a non-COVID patient, but to no avail. The patient died of his illness, ”Sullivan said of another patient.

Although the board did not vote on changing COVID-19 protocols on Thursday evening at its regular meeting, which followed the workshop, several board members expressed their opinions and concerns about the potential move to a mask warrant for everyone in MCSD buildings.

JoBeth Tupa, vice-chair of the board, said it might be worth revisiting the reopening plan after hearing data from MRH, what she called a ‘community partner’ on the board school.

“We have one of our community partners looking at us and telling us that they need help, that something has to change and that something has to give,” Tupa said. “With that, I don’t know what (a new shot) might look like. We don’t make the decision to dive in and update it; we did not anticipate this. Let me be very clear. This is not where I am going. I’m just saying I think we’re being asked to review our plan if it doesn’t work. If it’s only getting worse and it’s not working now, then I think we kind of have an obligation as to what we have within our jurisdiction that we can do to somehow help alleviate ( strain at MRH). “

Board member Chris Thome echoed the concerns, citing that the plan to reopen for this fall looks completely different from last fall – especially as infection rates are higher this year. than they were at the same time last year.

“It seemed to me last year, what we were doing was working at least to some extent,” Thome said. “So I think we ended up here because of the inaction.”

Cindy Looper, on the other hand, was reluctant to change the current plan proposed by the District. On Monday, board members met with county commissioners to discuss updates on the situation at the MCSD, and the commissioners decided the current plan was working.

“I’m at the point that we’re all going to have (COVID-19) at one point or another, and people who don’t choose to vaccinate are going to get sicker than those who choose,” Looper said. . “Again, (we want to) protect our children, but we also need to educate them. Education does not work from a distance. It didn’t work at all (last year).

Board chair JoAnn Baxter appeared poised to stay the course, but said the discussion would continue.

“We will continue to monitor (and) we will continue to review,” Baxter said. “If we have to have a special meeting, we will. “


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