Taking student's temperature (copy)

An Olathe Middle and High School staff member takes a student's temperature as part of a COVID-19 screening before school on Aug. 27, 2020.

As another layered pandemic mitigation strategy, Montrose County School District has started symptom screening upon arrival at all district schools.

“We’re trying to be as proactive as possible and less reactive, so this is an opportunity for us to stop illness from coming on campus at the door,” District spokesperson Matt Jenkins said. “This is a largely minimally disruptive procedure that ideally is going to help us maintain in-person instruction and operations.”

A version of symptom screening upon entry was required throughout the 2020-21 school year, in addition to other layered mitigation strategies, such as wearing masks.

In response to the widespread availability of COVID vaccines for people over the age of 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, relaxed mandates on COVID safety measures for the 2021-22 school year.

“It’s actually a really quick process and we’ve perfected it over the last school year,” Jenkins said.

Symptom screening was instituted at Johnson Elementary and Olathe Middle/High on Sept. 7 in response to a spike in positive cases: six students at Johnson and four at Olathe Middle/High had tested positive since the start of the school year.

Symptom screening was also deployed at Centennial Middle School starting on Sept. 15., after four students and two teachers had tested positive since returning to in-person learning.

Between Sept. 15 – 21, no positive cases were reported at the three schools that had implemented screening.

“We know that was a really effective strategy at those campuses and we can more effectively keep schools healthy and safe by reintroducing symptom screening at all buildings,” Jenkins said.

The screening process consists of screening for temperature and a questionnaire on symptoms. Any student with a temperature over the threshold of 100.4 degrees will be placed in a designated waiting area.

Students will be tracked with a barcode on their ID card, which is also used in school libraries and lunchrooms, and students who do not yet have identification cards will still be able to be tracked.

The onset of screenings was announced on the district’s Facebook page on Friday, Sept. 17. Jenkins said the district did not directly contact parents because of the minimal effect on parents’ routines and to avoid inundating them with messages.

However, he clarified that the district will directly reach out to parents to convey potential changes with more far-reaching consequences.

“If we were to transition a school to remote, if we were to have a significant COVID event, we’re absolutely going to let families know and go really wide with that information because that would be really disruptive to their lives,” Jenkins said.

Superintendent Carrie Stephenson made the decision upon the recommendation of the COVID response team, which consists of Jenkins, Director of Human Resources Michelle Pottorff, Executive Director of Operations Jim Pavlich and Nurse Coordinator Cyndle Sinclair. The team reviews data and creates recommendations to Stephenson on how to respond to spikes in COVID numbers, which she has the authority to accept or reject.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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