BLOOMFIELD, N.M. (KRQE) – A number of schools in San Juan County have opted to temporarily close due to exposure in April. One school in Bloomfield had to close, not because it had too many COVID-19 cases, but because it had too many unvaccinated teachers who were exposed to the virus who needed to quarantine under state guidelines. Mesa Alta Junior High School in Bloomfield will be back to remote learning until April 26.
“I got a report Tuesday morning of two cases and then they started doing the contact tracing of the students who were in the schools sick. And when they started doing the contact tracing we find out the exposure rate of people who were employees and other students,” Dr. Kim Mizell, Superintendent of Bloomfield School District said.
The district quickly learned it had six unvaccinated employees at Mesa Alta who needed to quarantine for 10 days, under the state’s guidelines. Dr. Mizell said they didn’t have enough substitute teachers to continue with in-person learning, so she had to shut down the school.
“My approach in managing all of this is to try to stay ahead of the exposure rate. Because before you know it, exponentially, you’ve exposed a lot of people to a deadly situation,” Dr. Mizell said. “I’m very concerned for my community and everyone involved. It’s never a popular decision but I’m in the position to use all the protocols and procedures the state has set aside with the tool kit. We follow those with fidelity and we have to make our decisions. So it’s a proactive decision with what I was seeing play out in my community.”
With only about 180 of the district’s 465 teachers vaccinated, she said it’s a situation that they may have to work through again in the coming months. “People have their personal choices and I respect that. And so, we have to maneuver within those parameters. My job is: How do I keep the schools open under those situations? Unfortunately, when you have cases in a school, then those are the individuals that have to be quarantined. That plays out in a difficult way…sometimes you have to say you don’t have the staff to maintain that school,” Dr. Mizell said.
According to the New Mexico Public Education Department guidelines, people who have been fully vaccinated for two weeks and aren’t showing symptoms do not have to quarantine if they’ve had ‘close contact’ with a person positive with COVID-19. PED also said people do not need to quarantine if they had COVID-19 and recovered in the past 90 days. The CDC says if you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19 but is fully vaccinated, you do not need to isolate or get tested unless you have symptoms. It does not give a time limit on how long the vaccine provides protection.
Dr. Mizell reminds community members she’s making decisions to keep students and staff safe and following requirements by the state. “We’re just following the guidelines and these are decisions that have been put in place by our governor and PED, for the benefit and safety of everyone. And whether they agree with it or not, I have to abide by those rules,” Dr. Mizell said.
KRQE News 13 asked the PED if the vaccine would ever be required for teachers. “There are no plans at the state or federal level to require anyone to take a COVID-19 vaccine — yet. While highly effective, these vaccines have yet to show they protect people in the long term. Additionally, while the vaccines are considerably safer than getting COVID, rare side effects can occur and scientists need more time to discover those,” a PED spokesperson said in an emailed response.
The state does require schools to shut down if they’ve had four Rapid Responses within 14 days. A Rapid Response is one or more cases reported on a single day of a person being infectious while on campus, along with any positive cases with a testing day up to one day after the reported cases.