GFPS to temporarily close Nov. 16; CCHD announces 3 COVID-19 related deaths

Great Falls Public Schools are temporarily closing and switching to remote leaning district wide effective 5 p.m. Nov. 13 in an effort to slow or reduce the spread of COVID-19.

As The Electric reported on Nov. 9, GFPS officials were discussing the plan to close schools and switch to remote learning for the week before Thanksgiving and return to classrooms on Nov. 30 due to the increasing number of positive cases within the district and the significant number of teachers and students quarantined.

GFPS considering temporary closure due to COVID-19 quarantines, effort to slow spread

GFPS officials met again Nov. 10 to finalize details of that plan and on Tuesday afternoon said the closure was official.

“The only way that this intervention will work in flattening the curve and reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools, is if all of us take every extra precaution possible during this period. We will need to self-quarantine, limit our interaction with others, aside from our immediate family, and follow all of the healthy guidelines of sanitation and PPE when we do have to go out and about,” according to release from Superintendent Tom Moore. “I realize how difficult this is on many of our families in the school district and on the community, and it is not an ideal way to educate our students. However, if we are diligent during these next two weeks hopefully, we can reopen schools and resume face to face learning safely and in a healthy manner for the three weeks between Thanksgiving and the holiday break.”

COVID case rate increases in Cascade County; GFPS officials concerned about lack of staffing for schools due to COVID, limiting all extracurriculars to 50 person limit

As of Nov. 9, there were 87 active cases within the district and Moore said there were 1,188 people either isolated or quarantined associated with those cases.

On Nov. 10, Cascade County added 84 new cases for a total of 2,877 cases. Of those, 1,911 are currently active, according to the state map.

As of Nov. 9, according to state data, Benefis Health System had 52 COVID-19 patients, 153 non-COVID patients and no beds available. Ten COVID patients and eight non-COVID patients were in the ICU, leaving three beds available. Five COVID and five non-COVID patients were on ventilators, leaving 16 available.

The Cascade County City-County Health Department announced Nov. 10 that there have been three additional COVID-19 related deaths in the county since Nov. 7, bringing the total to 45.

These individuals were:

  • 1 female in her 50s
  • 1 female in her 80s
  • 1 male in his 80s

CCHD reports 5 more COVID-19 related deaths; county adds 133 cases; GFPS delays middle school boys basketball season

The number of staff absences related to COVID-19 is causing significant strain on the district and after consulting with healthcare officials and the Cascade County City-County Health Department, Moore said officials decided to close early, extending the Thanksgiving break, in the hopes that it would reduce congregation, allow teachers to complete quarantine, and if students and families distance and mask during the closure, it could help slow the spread of cases within the district.

Health regulations shut down live performances for Symphony, GFPS; Bullock announces new medical teams in Great Falls, other communities; The Square adjusting hours for COVID-19 exposure

In a release, CCHD said the agency supports the GFPS closure decision.

“These are difficult times, and we appreciate the measures our community is taking to slow the advance of COVID-19 transmission. Almost every business, including hospitals and other critical infrastructure—including public health—have been affected impacted by this pandemic, particularly when it comes to staffing. The schools are no different,” according to the CCHD release. “That said, it is also clear that the impact of school closures will be felt widely—by working parents, by childcare providers, by employers, by organizations providing assistance to families in need—and we ask that all Cascade County residents come together over these two weeks to support the difficult but necessary decision our schools have made. If we all take this time seriously, and do everything in our power to keep COVID-19 at a distance despite the changes in our everyday routines that these closures will undoubtedly cause, then we will all be in a better place when schools resume in-person learning on November 30th. The next couple weeks could make a critical difference in creating a safe learning environment for our kids, and in keeping businesses running smoothly.”

When students come back Nov. 30, Moore said officials will revaluate the COVID-19 situation and make decisions regarding any other possible closures at that time.

GFPS is working to provide childcare for school aged children during the closure for healthcare workers and those groups are asked to consult their employers for details, according to GFPS.

Specific questions regarding student learning should be directed to teachers and school principals, according to GFPS.

CCHD is asking the community to follow the known prevention measures including:

  • Staying home when you are sick and getting tested if symptoms are consistent with COVID-19
  • Limiting interactions with others and thinking critically about the necessity of engaging in certain events/outings/gatherings
  • Social distancing wherever possible
  • Universal masking and proper mask wearing
  • Good sanitation practices and hand washing
  • Isolating if you are positive, and notifying everyone you were in contact with for 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms or 48 hours prior to test date
  • Quarantining if you have had close contact with a positive case, and continuing to quarantine for 2 weeks from the time you were exposed