Ketchikan High School. (KRBD file photo)

Ketchikan’s school district is pushing back its return to full-capacity classrooms by at least a week. That’s as officials attempt to hedge against a possible post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus cases in the community.

The local school board voted earlier this month to reduce the district’s largest middle and high schools’ capacity by half. Initially, the plan was to return to classrooms five days a week on Nov. 30.

That decision came as COVID-19 cases surged in Ketchikan — days after the decision, at the height of the spike, the community broke a record as 60 people were infected in a seven-day period. For some perspective, that week accounted for nearly a third of Ketchikan’s 189 total cases since the pandemic began.

Since the vote, most of the district’s middle- and high-schoolers are in the classroom twice a week.

But in recent weeks, the pace of the outbreak has slowed. Key pandemic indicators like community spread and the positivity rate have also fallen. Officials credit residents’ adherence to voluntary precautions like masking and social distancing for blunting the growth in cases.

Last week, local officials decided the community’s risk level would stay elevated at Level 3, the second-highest mark, through at least Monday, Nov. 30. The call was made by the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center’s Policy Group, which consists of mayors, municipal managers, attorneys and public health officials. The decision was partly driven by concerns about heightened travel around the Thanksgiving holiday, pandemic response officials said in a statement. They’re set to reevaluate the risk level on Monday.

School district officials followed that with a statement on social media Tuesday. Superintendent Beth Lougee writes that if the community’s risk level is lowered to Level 2 on Monday, students at Ketchikan High School, Schoenbar Middle School and Revilla Junior-Senior High School will return to a five day classroom schedule from Monday, Dec. 7.

If the risk level stays at Level 3, those students will continue with a mix of in-person and distance learning. But Lougee noted that if officials in Ketchikan raise the risk level, classrooms would be closed and students would move to distance learning.