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How many Salt Lake high schoolers tested positive for COVID-19 before returning to school? The number may surprise you

SHARE How many Salt Lake high schoolers tested positive for COVID-19 before returning to school? The number may surprise you

A school bus is parked outside of the Salt Lake City School District’s Pupil Transportation building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Just four of 2,800 Salt Lake City School District high school students who underwent COVID-19 testing prior to the resumption of in-person learning this week tested positive, according to district officials.

Judi Yaworsky, the school district’s lead nurse, said it was reassuring to resume in-person learning with such a low positive rate — under 1% — but mitigation procedures will be key to keeping the spread of the virus in check.

That means adhering to wearing masks, social distancing and thorough hand-washing.

“I think we’re coming in at a really good low point so I think that should give parents confidence,” Yaworsky said.

The school district’s seven nurses also gained valuable experience conducting mass “Test to Start” clinics, so they will have confidence moving forward about how to organize the events and conduct tests rapidly, she said.

Yaworsky said it is especially important moving forward that anyone who feels sick stays home. In the past, many people “powered through” a school day or workday when they were under the weather.

“This pandemic has helped us to realize that’s not really the best thing to do,” she said.

Monday was the first day that the majority of Salt Lake City School District students returned to in-person learning. It was the only school district in Utah to start the school year solely with online learning, with the exception of some students who received in-person special education services or English language instruction.

Feb. 8 was the first day secondary students returned to city schools under a vote of the school board. Elementary students have been returning in phases since late January.

The school district was under growing pressure from state lawmakers and a group of parents who filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to force a return to school.

The Utah Senate passed SB107, which would require the State School Board to reallocate a portion of per-pupil funding from a school district that does not provide a broad-based in-person learning option for all students in kindergarten through grade 12 by Feb. 8. The bill remains in the hands of the Utah Senate, where it will likely remain for the rest of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, a 3rd District Court judge denied the parents’ motion for preliminary injunction seeking the reopening of Salt Lake schools for an in-person learning option four days a week and further found the school district’s sole reliance on virtual learning did not violate students’ constitutional rights.

School district spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin said about 35% of all students have elected to continue their instruction online, the rest returning to classrooms as of Feb. 8.

High school students who are taking just one or two classes in person and the rest virtually were also included among students tested prior to the start of school, Chatwin said.

The school district’s faculty and staff were not required to undergo COVID-19 testing but among those who did, three other positive cases were detected, Yaworsky said.

The school district used rapid antigen tests, which require a swab of a lower nostril, which is applied to a test card that can detect the presence of proteins found on or within the novel coronavirus. Test results are available within 15-20 minutes.

“It was really very slick. I mean the testing goes very slick, very quick. It’s not too time-consuming. Once you get going, you just can fly right through it,” she said.

Yaworsky said it’s difficult to pinpoint why the number of positive cases was so low, but county and state data indicate lower numbers of cases since the holiday season.

It may also be due to the community more closely following practices that help stem the spread of the virus.

“Being on remote learning up until Monday, they’ve had less exposures to others so I really feel like you’re seeing that as well. We’ll have to see what happens when we put everyone back,” he said.