Rising COVID cases in Richland County, Mont., could result in return to masking for Sidney students

Sidney students wearing masks
Sidney students wearing masks(Sidney Public Schools District)
Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 5:35 PM CDT
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SIDNEY, M.T. - Positive cases of COVID-19 are surging in Montana, and Richland County is among those seeing a sharp spike.

The county’s active case count remained in the single digits for months, but now they are at 80 active cases, which is the second-highest total in Eastern Montana. Officials say interstate travel, workforce and household exposure are the main sources for the rapid increase.

“It kind of spreads a little bit like the stomach flu and so a household of seven people amounts to seven cases pretty quick, so that’s what we are seeing right now,” said Stephanie Ler, public information officer.

While the health unit has been very busy for the past month in contact tracing, Ler says they have also been busy vaccinating, which she says is the best way to combat the pandemic.

Sidney Public Schools Superintendent Brent Sukut warns increasing cases could move the district back to requiring masks.

As of Thursday, Sukut says 12 students and two staff have tested positive for the virus since the school year began and more than 30 individuals are currently being asked to quarantine. He says the district is determined to stay maskless as long as they can, but tough decisions could come if more positives are identified.

“If our case count gets out of control within the community, I think when we get to that 120-plus, then we will be looking at some kind of move back to phase 4 with possible mask requirements,” said Sukut.

The health department does not have the authority to make students or staff quarantine due to state law, but Sukut says they should do everything possible to limit the spread.

“Having to have a student quarantine isn’t ideal for families all the time, however, it’s necessary for the safety of all of our students and staff and, hopefully, to stop the spread of this,” said Sukut.

Sukut says staff availability determines whether or not the school will stay face to face.

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