Coronavirus news, 3.18.20: Blaine County plans coronavirus screenings

The Blaine County School District is preparing to screen students for coronavirus before allowing them to return to school.

“We realize that many families have plans for out of state travel … and, although we advise against such travel, we have no authority to interfere with those plans,” the district announced Wednesday.

But the district does plan to screen students after its extended break, pointing to a section of Idaho code that allows districts to exclude students suspected of carrying a contagious or infectious disease.

The district is still working out the details of the testing but assured families “the least intrusive and most effective manner possible.”

Blaine County this week joined dozens of other Idaho districts in closing its doors amid growing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Closures overlap spring breaks in several districts and charters, fueling concerns that students who travel could contract and spread the virus.

Blaine County plans to reopen its schools April 6, but said Wednesday that date could be extended.

Idaho has nine confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the state’s coronavirus website. Four of those cases are in Blaine County.

Ybarra stresses continued instruction amid school closures

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra encouraged K-12 leaders from across Idaho to continue instructing kids amid widespread school closures in conjunction with the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“Life has to go on for kids,” she said during an hourlong webinar with educators Wednesday.

Local leaders shuttered hundreds of schools this week in response to a federal directive limiting social gatherings to no more than 10 people. As of Wednesday, around 95 percent of Idaho’s schools had closed, Ybarra’s team said.

The closures have thrust many of Idaho’s schools into uncharted instructional territory. Some have held off out of concerns for reaching only students with internet or a computer. Others have rounded complete transitions to online learning.

Ybarra acknowledged the rapid developments surrounding the pandemic, but entered “mom mode” to say that closing up shop entirely is unacceptable.

“Just closing doors and calling it a day is not going to fly with the public or with the Legislature,” Ybarra said, adding, “You have to have a plan for continuing to educate children.”

Wednesday’s webinar covered a range of other topics amid the state’s fixation on the virus, with participants floating anonymous questions to state leaders. Other topics included:

  • Meal delivery to students who qualify for federal meal subsidies.
  • A potential waiver allowing online schools to continue functioning in the event of a statewide closure.
  • State funding implications amid widespread school closures.

Nonprofits establish a COVID-19 relief fund

The Idaho Community Foundation, United Way of Treasure Valley  and Idaho Nonprofit center are gathering donations for community organizations that help low-income and vulnerable populations impacted by COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Response Fund for Idaho won’t give money  directly  to individuals. Instead it will dole out immediate and long-term grants to organizations that work with people who are “disproportionately affected by  the virus,” including folks that lose work because of the virus, or people who can’t access critical services because of closures.

The grants are meant to “fill the gap” not covered by efforts put in place by local governments or organizations. The nonprofits are in the process of establishing the grant-application process and will announce that in the coming weeks.

The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation donated $100,000 to the fund this week.

Others interested in donating can mail checks to the Idaho Community  Foundation at 210 W. State Street, Boise, ID 83702. Those donations can go to the statewide fund, or be earmarked to help a particular region.

For more information, visit the foundation’s webpage here or email the foundation at [email protected].

Confirmed coronavirus case at BYU-Idaho

A Brigham Young University-Idaho student is recovering in his Rexburg apartment after last week testing positive for coronavirus, Eastern Idaho Public Health announced Tuesday.

The student reported feeling ill Sunday, March 8, and returned to Madison County from out of state three days later, health officials said. He reportedly stayed in his Rexburg apartment until seeking a COVID-19 test Thursday, March 12.

“After the test, he was asked to self-isolate in his apartment pending notification of his test results,” officials said.

Epidemiologists are working with local officials to determine “reasonable risk criteria” at locations the student visited and possible exposure to others, according to Tuesday’s statement.

It’s the first confirmed case in Madison County, according to the state.

Boise, West Ada call off proms

Idaho’s two largest school districts have called off their proms amid the growing pandemic.

Boise made the announcement Tuesday, also canceling academic assemblies and a weeklong student music event.

West Ada followed suit Wednesday, the Idaho Statesman reported.

The pandemic has prompted the axing of various local and national events, from state and regional sport tournaments to the 2020 NBA season.

Idaho Education News reporter Sami Edge contributed to this report. 

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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