AMERICAN FORK, Utah — Pleasant Grove High School will close for two days and begin a modified block schedule this week after the Alpine School District and Utah County Health Department reported a "clustering" of COVID-19 cases in the Pleasant Grove community.
The Alpine School District, which covers much of northern and western Utah County, released a weekly report of numbers that showed 67 "active positive cases" — 41 students and 26 employees — among its 81,493 students and 8,400 employees on Tuesday.
That number rose from 19 students with active positive cases the previous week.
In the announcement, the district said Pleasant Grove has been identified as a "high impact area."
District spokeswoman Kimberly Bird told FOX 13 Pleasant Grove High School will close Tuesday and Wednesday for cleaning and disinfecting, then classes will resume Thursday with a modified, two day on, two day off schedule.
Parents like Jennifer Lyman explained that the announcement came as a surprise Monday. She said her son attended school like normal.
After he left for football practice, she received an email with the announcement.
"When I got the statement this afternoon, my immediate impression was, 'Oh, here it starts,'" Lyman said.
The new schedule will divide students alphabetically. Those with last names starting with A-K will attend Thursday and Friday, and those with L-Z will attend Sept. 8-9. After that, an alternating schedule will be put in place with more information to come.
All school-sanctioned sports events will still take place as scheduled.
"My son has mentioned that it seems like each day there's another few that are dropping off like flies, that, okay this class only had this many kids today, and this friend is now quarantined for two weeks," Lyman explained.
Bird said the district is concerned that students are not following social distancing and not wearing masks outside of school hours, adding that if it does not improve, they may need to pivot to all online classes.
A Utah County Health Department spokesperson indicated to Fox 13 that they are in the process of contact tracing to look at what's behind the hot spot in Pleasant Grove. The Alpine School District, Fox 13 was told, is conducting their own contact tracing within the school as well.
The health department mentioned a large community event that took place just over two weeks ago at Downtown Park, saying it's possible that event could have led to community spread. However, it's unknown at this time if any cases are tied to that event.
The district is working with Pleasant Grove City and the Utah County Health Department to coordinate efforts to prevent community spread outside of the schools.
Both the district and health department expressed concern for the community spread of cases. So did Lyman.
"There's a mask and no-mask camps, and so that's kind of my concern is the kids are getting caught up in middle of all of this," she said. "I would like community to kind of come together for the benefit of our kids so they can keep going to school."
Lyman said she feels like the school district is doing a great job keeping students safe. However, she did express concern that a partial online schedule would be difficult for families without access to technology or the internet, and create a divide between more affluent and less affluent students.
She, like the district, is hoping the new schedule will slow the spread of the virus and students can return to school.
"I feel confident that the plan that they have in place will be effective, hopefully, in lowering the numbers. But I also hope the community as a whole will make an effort to be smart — Wash your hands, social distance, wear your mask," Lyman said.
The Utah Department of Heath is providing a mobile testing center in the parking lot of the Pleasant Grove City outdoor pool this week. Free testing will be available Wednesday from 2:30-6:30 p.m. and Thursday from 12:30-4:30 p.m. The department asks that people pre-register (click here) to improve efficiency, but it is not required. Children under 18 years old must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The Utah Department of Health recently beganreporting numbers of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, although they do not include where the outbreaks occurred. As of Monday afternoon, 20 outbreaks are reported with 107 cases and six hospitalizations.