MISSOULA — COVID-19 cases in Missoula County Public Schools are already higher than they were during last fall's surge in cases.
But MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson told MTN News the District remains confident with their precautions to keep students and staff safe.
The numbers are telling. During the COVID case surge last November, MCPS was reporting about 35-to-40 positive cases per week. Just a month into this school year, Missoula schools are seeing more than 50 cases in the latest numbers to be released (for the week of Sept. 13 to Sept. 17.)
But staff vaccinations are making a big difference with just 10 cases since the first of the year, compared to 77 student positives.
"By and large we're significantly lower than the county is when you look at numbers per 10,000. So I think our schools are really still safe with regards to transmission," Watson said. "And I think kids in school are, you know, less likely to catch it then than they are in the community. But we are seeing an increase in just overall cases."
Watson also says the amount of testing is a big help this year, especially since more traditional problems like colds and flu are back in the mix for the school populations.
"We have a lot of people testing. Not a lot of people testing positive, but you know they have some of the same symptoms. So we know there's other bugs going around," Watson explained. "But I think we find out about a positive case through our own testing or if they get a test outside of school and tell us."
Especially because it helps with the district's response, according to Watson.
"If you do end up testing positive, please let us know so we can do the contact tracing. And then if you are a close contact we're going to notify you and we would just ask that you cooperate with the guidance around close contacts."
Watson, and his fellow administrators in other districts, continue to advise parents to keep their kids at home if they're showing any symptomatic issues. And to consider age-appropriate vaccinations.
That's been controversial in the current politicized climate. But Watson believes better vaccinations are still a key solution for schools.
"I know parents out there, you know, might be struggling that with that a little bit and trying to decide if it's the right thing. And I'd encourage parents to talk to their health care providers about that if it's the right thing for their child, we obviously encourage it, but we know it's a parental decision and they should talk to their health care provider," Watson said.
"And with some parents, you know may not have a regular health care provider and by all means, they could call us and talk to one of our school nurses," he continued. "And we can talk about the vaccines and might help them make that decision."
Watson says MCPS is still planning on a six week review of the mask policy in early October. Additional information about MCPS COVID-19 plans and procedures can be found here.