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Two more students in Great Falls test positive for COVID-19

Posted at 7:22 AM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 14:50:17-04

The City-County Health Department in Great Falls on Tuesday notified Great Falls Public Schools that there are two new confirmed COVID-19 cases among students.

One is a student at Paris Gibson Education Center and the other at East Middle School. The GFPS nursing team and administrators are working with the CCHD to conduct contact tracing.

GFPS superintendent Tom Moore said that because these two new cases are students that had not been in schools recently, the deep sanitizing of classrooms at Paris Gibson Education Center and East Middle School was not necessary; at this point there will be school as usual at both of those schools.

This brings the number of confirmed cases among students in Great Falls to four. Parents, staff, and students are reminded to monitor your health and well-being each day if you are feeling sick or exhibiting any flu-like symptoms, and to please stay home from school and contact your healthcare provider.

Moore also said that GFPS on Tuesday was experiencing a "severe" network outage that was affecting email, internet, and software apps. He said computer technicians and data center staff are working to restore systems. This outage has impacted remote learning and all email communication.

(SEPTEMBER 7) On Saturday, Superintendent Tom Moore released a statement saying that the Cascade City-County Health Department had informed the school district of two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Great Falls High School.

Following a Labor Day Weekend full of cleaning, the district is planning to welcome students and teachers back to school on Tuesday, September 8. While the reopening of school is a good sign, it doesn’t come without a significant amount of hard work form the district’s cleaning crews, who spent just about the entirety of their holiday weekend disinfecting the entire high school, giving special attention to classrooms and areas deemed “affected.”

“I got our team together, and we got over here Saturday morning, early, and we started our process,” explained Brent Cutler, the district’s Assistant Supervisor of Building and Grounds. “That process involved using our air scrubbing machines here that are HEPA filtered. They do 1200 cubic feet per minute, so we had an exchange rate of approximately 12 cycles per hour.”

Brent explained that the entire cleaning process has been overhauled this year due to the pandemic. What was once only a breaktime cleaning process (Thanksgiving, Spring break, etc.) has become an everyday occurrence. What was once unthinkable, cleaners coming in with full Personal Protective Equipment and disinfecting classrooms and other effected spaces, may soon become the norm if more cases of Coronavirus continue to pop up.

“We brought in the air machine, we employed our UV lighting lamps to help disinfect surfaces there too, and then we cleaned all touchpoints such as desktops, light switches, etc.,” Cutler said, detailing what the affected areas go through before the building can be deemed ready to reopen. “After that, they were cleaned and thoroughly disinfected with our chemical disinfectant. To make sure we were doing a great job at that, we followed up with ATP testing to verify that what we were doing was a clean process.”

There’s no doubt that the cleaning process is thorough, but it doesn’t distract from the fact that it took less than two weeks for the first cases of COVID-19 to pop up at a school in the district. All the preparation and planning that happened in rooms and offices from each school to the district offices over the summer, and yet, just over one week in and this happened.

This isn’t a comment on the district’s work to keep students, teachers and their families safe. The work that Cutler and his crews put in over the long weekend shows just how dedicated the district is to keeping schools open, but it also shows that it won’t necessarily be any easy task.

As was noted in one of the District Board of Trustees meetings over the summer, the enemy is an invisible virus, and one that has already claimed the lives of over 188,000 people in the United States alone. It’s not going to be an easy road, that has already been proven.

Back to Brent and his crew. The cleaning that they’re doing while no one is looking is substantial on its own. The work that they put into these “affected areas” is even more impressive.

“The affected areas, we’re doing a lot more thorough job,” Brent said. “We used air machines and UV lamps, versus your regular cleaning, the staff, and students both clean in between class changes. They do their own desktops and then once the last bell rings at the end of the day, our custodians come in and they’ll do a disinfect on the desktops too, so it is an added cleaning to our regular routine.”

With help from the City-County Health Department, those “affected areas” are identified through contact tracing at the school. The information gathered from that helps the crews put together and implement a cleaning action plan.

Through an intense process of scrubbing, wiping, waiting, re-wiping, spraying, waiting again, and inspecting, the sanitation crews, district officials and all of the schools’ staff hope that the virus will stay at bay.