A downswing in COVID-19 cases among students and employees, the loosening of coronavirus-related guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and Utah’s pending shift from an “emergency response” to a “steady state” has prompted a major operational shift for Canyons.
Superintendent Dr. Rick Robins announced that, starting Wednesday, March 2, all CSD schools and central offices will be operating in “Tier 1”— the least restrictive step in the District’s emergency response plan that was created to give operational guidance to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By no means am I saying COVID-19 is over,” he said on Tuesday, March 1, “but we’re hoping this will be the last time I give a COVID-19 update during Board meeting.”
Also, in recognition of the heightened challenges faced this year by Canyons District employees, and in appreciation for their professionalism and hard work, the Canyons Board of Education on Tuesday approved one-time bonus for all employees.
“The pressures of operating in a pandemic have been compounded this year by supply-chain issues, acute staffing shortages, and inflationary pressures, which have added to the stress and workload for everyone. Yet Canyons’ administrators, teachers, and support staff have shown grace and resilience, showing up for students with a fierce dedication and caring hearts,” said Canyons Board member Clareen Arnold in making the motion for the unanimously-approved bonus.
“It’s not a ton of money but it’s all we could do,” said Board member Amber Shill. “We just wanted to say thank you for your work.”
The move to Tier 1 across CSD comes just short of the two-year anniversary of then-Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s decision to temporarily dismiss classes to stem the spread of COVID-19. Herbert’s announcement followed by two days the World Health Organization’s declaration on March 11, 2020 that COVID-19 had become a global pandemic.
Dr. Robins noted the efforts that have been taken by the Board and Administration, at times against great criticism, to preserve in-person instruction.
During his presentation for the Board of Education, Dr. Robins also showed an empty vial of the vaccine from CSD’s first-ever COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic held last spring. He said that, to him, it served as a symbol of hope and the start of the end of COVID-19 responses.
Moving forward, in Tier 1, schools will largely operate as normal. “It’s amazing that we are at this point,” Dr. Robins said.
As in any other year, custodians will clean high-touch areas regularly, and classrooms, bathrooms, cafeterias, and hallways will be thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis. Canyons will continue emphasizing the importance of hand-washing and staying home if ill.
Hand-sanitizer also will remain available in schools. Even as protocols are relaxed, Robins said Canyons does not want to lose any ground in the effort to return to as-close-to-normal-as-possible operations. CSD will continue using many of the measures adopted in the past two years to mitigate coronavirus infections.
This includes top-of-the-line MERV-13 air filters, touchless water fountains, and regular electrostatic spraying with hospital-grade detergents. While in-person student attendance also has rebounded to typical levels since the height of the omicron surge at the beginning of January, Canyons teachers will continue to update their Canvas pages.
CSD’s transition in its pandemic response, including phasing out the COVID-19 Data Dashboard, comes as federal and state officials adopt new COVID-19 reporting strategies.
As of March 31, the state will move away from reporting the number of daily positive COVID-19 cases in favor of informing the public about weekly hospitalization rates and deaths. The state also has closed COVID-19 testing sites, and Canyons no longer is offering the free drive-thru testing clinic because of a lack of participation.
Instead, those experiencing symptoms are encouraged to seek care from a private medical provider. In response to falling numbers, the CDC now is saying it’s OK for Americans living in low- and medium-risk counties, including school children, to stop wearing face masks indoors.
Roughly 63 percent of all counties in the U.S., including Salt Lake County, fall into moderate-risk categories, under the new COVID-19 guidance issued last week. In essence, the CDC has shifted the framework it uses for advising people when to mask.
Instead of relying solely on case counts, the new system also takes into account such indicators of severe disease as COVID-19 hospital admissions, deaths, and hospital capacity. The CDC also announced that, effective, Feb. 25, it no longer requires the use of face masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems.
If cases begin to rise again, Robins said, Canyons will turn to its already-established response plan. Under the plan, CSD will take into consideration the operational capacity of schools, absentee rates of students and employees, and the ability to find substitute workers to support critical school functions before taking mitigating steps, such as strongly encouraging masks, stepping up cleaning and sanitation tasks, and postponing assemblies.
Calling for a Remote-Learning Day would be the final step in a process of monitoring a school’s ability to stay open and provide educational services to students.
The Board-approved bonus is $300 for all contracted employees to be prorated based on employees’ FTE status as of March 1. Hourly employees will receive $150 regardless of hours worked and must be employed as of March 1. The bonus will be paid on the March 31, 2022 paycheck.