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Unalaska school district’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee meetings suspended as local case counts remain low

Maggie Nelson
The advisory committee is only being suspended, not eliminated, and can be resurrected at any point, said committee co-chair Bob Cummings.

The Unalaska City School District’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee decided to stand down Wednesday.

That means committee members won’t be meeting monthly to discuss the district’s COVID-19 protocols, unless there is a spike in local cases and the district sees a need in resurrecting the advisory group.

Community members, including parents, staff, industry representatives and students, make up the committee. They help advise school board officials and administration on mitigation measures.

Local COVID-19 cases have dropped significantly in recent weeks, and the district has been reinstating more activities that were paused during the pandemic.

It’s starting to reflect kind of how it was before — from the standpoint of how school is operating,” said High School Principal Jim Wilson.

Things like attendance levels and after-school activities are returning to a pre-pandemic standard, he said.

Schools on the island eliminated their mask mandates at the end of February, when Unalaska saw a major drop in virus cases after the initial omicron surge.

At first, Wilson said he felt anxious about the shift.

I was very cautious in watching the [city’s COVID-19] dashboard and keeping in contact with the clinic, just hoping that cases didn't spike … and to be honest, hoping that we weren't a reason for that,” he said. “And so I was very, very pleased after we got through that two-week span. I think it helped to put everybody at ease that we could kind of step back into some of our traditional activities.”

Now, the committee says it’s ready to continue dropping measures and pause the meetings, which have seen fewer attendees recently.

“Now that we've lifted all of those [measures], kids are coming in and hanging out — kids that don't want to go to the gym and shoot hoops, kids that want to finish their homework from the night before,” said committee and UCSD staff member Katie Bagley. “And they're socializing, they're talking and they're sharing videos. And it's just really a positive thing.”

UCSD parent and committee member Jeff Hancock said part of the process now, inside and outside of the classroom, is learning to respect other people’s boundaries.

“There are still people who are wearing masks. There’s still some company policy stuff that is in place that hasn't been changed,” Hancock said. “And it's nice when people are respectful enough to either distance or put on a mask if they're in the presence of somebody who's also wearing masks.”

Principal Wilson said students are generally responsive to their peers’ behavior and will choose to mask up on their own if they’re near students who are wearing face coverings.

Dennis Robinson is another parent-representative on the committee. He said he supports disbanding for now, but suggests the community keep an eye on new variants.

“I think we need to probably keep the radar on and be ready, if [the new variant] does start spreading,” Robinson said.

But the group is only being suspended, not eliminated, said committee co-chair Bob Cummings. There are plans in place in case the island does see another spike.

“We have a mitigation plan, and obviously, this committee can be resurrected at any time,” Cummings said.

The district dropped its transmission level to “low” last week, after the city reported zero active community cases of the virus.

As of Monday morning, there was one active case on the island, which was considered industry-quarantined, according to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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