Student at Denver Area Senior Sunrise Event Tests Positive for COVID-19 | Westword

COVID-19: High-Schooler at Big Senior Sunrise Event Tests Positive

The controversial event wasn't a bastion of public-health compliance.
Chaparral High School is located in Douglas County.
Chaparral High School is located in Douglas County. Google Maps
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Earlier this week, we told you about a so-called "Senior Sunrise" event that brought out well over 100 students from Parker's Chaparral High School who wore no masks and disregarded social distancing, thereby violating multiple public-health recommendations in regard to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the fears of officials who put such protocols in place have been realized: A Senior Sunrise participant has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, raising the prospect that the gathering could be declared an outbreak.

On August 19, the Douglas County School District sent Chaparral parents and guardians, a number of whom appear to have approved of or at least enabled their child's presence at Senior Sunrise, a letter on behalf of the Tri-County Health Department, warning of the positive case. The agency has jurisdiction in the area at least until next year, when Dougco, whose officials were upset at a mandate to wear facial coverings in public, plans to start its own health department.

The timing couldn't be worse. On Monday, August 24, Chaparral, along with other Douglas County schools, is scheduled to launch in-person learning as part of a hybrid model that also includes remote instruction. The plan calls for students gathering in classrooms — unlike their peers at Fort Lupton High School, which closed for two weeks shortly after reopening because two pupils tested positive for COVID-19.

Jillian Jaskunas, a communicable-disease epidemiologist with Tri-County Public Health, confirms that an investigation into the Senior Sunrise get-together is under way. However, she concedes that "it's difficult for us to define the level of exposure and who might have been exposed." After all, contact tracing — quizzing infected individuals to discover the identity of those with whom they were in close proximity — only works if the interview subject is completely honest. Yet for high-schoolers, directing authorities to their friends may feel a whole lot like narcing on them.

For months, Governor Jared Polis has urged teens and twenty-somethings to forgo attendance at large events following the theory that a person with COVID-19 at a party of ten or fewer people might only pass the disease on to one or two others, whereas a carrier at a big throng could infect dozens.

Although Senior Sunrise had been a school-sponsored event at Chaparral since 2013 under principal Greg Gotchey, the 2020 version was canceled because of health concerns. Nonetheless, sources tell Westword that numerous seniors took it upon themselves to stage an unauthorized version on August 12 at Parker's Challenger Regional Park, alerting students through social media. A professional photographer was engaged to commemorate the occasion by way of a shot showing 100-plus mask-free students crammed together shoulder to shoulder.

The good news is that Senior Sunrise was outside, where the odds of infection are lower than in a confined space. "I think it will not hurt us that it was outdoors," acknowledges Tri-County Health's Jaskunas, who then adds that "I can't speak to the true level of decreased risk. There are other factors: the distance between students, the number of students, the duration of time they were close together. All of these things factor together."

Another complication: Tri-County Health is looking into the possibility that students from area high schools other than Chaparral may have gone to Senior Sunrise, too.

According to Jaskunas, any lab-confirmed cases will be registered with Colorado's electronic disease-reporting system, after which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will determine if they fit its outbreak definition. (Typically, the CDPHE requires at least two positive cases linked to a single setting before an outbreak is declared.) TCHD coordinated with the Douglas County School District, whose cooperation Jaskunas praises, in sending the letter to parents, so they'll be prepared should contact tracers reach out to them. She encourages everyone — students, as well as any adults who may have been on hand — to be as forthright as possible when talking about those with whom they shared time and space.

"The bottom line is, we need to continue getting the message out that if anyone is sick, they need to stay home and notify their health provider, regardless of the event," Jaskunas stresses. "And if their child attended, or if parents attended, they can monitor their child for symptoms."

Here's the text of the letter sent to parents, followed by the Douglas County School District isolation-and-quarantine protocols.

Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) was notified that an individual at the "Senior Sunrise" event, which is thought to have taken place on 8/12/2020 at the Challenger Regional Park in Parker, has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Douglas County School District and Tri-County Health Department are working together on this investigation. This letter is to notify parents of the situation. Parents, if you or your children attended this event, please read the following guidance:

The "Senior Sunrise" event was not a school-organized event. Public health will communicate directly to all known close contacts of the person with COVID-19. Short, passing interactions with a person with COVID-19 are considered low risk situations. If you have not received communication from public health, it is unlikely that you had any known prolonged exposure to the ill person. Be aware that there is COVID-19 circulating in our communities and it is possible that you have been exposed outside of the “Senior Sunrise” event.

At Home: Participants with illness consistent with COVID-19 need to follow self-isolation recommendations ( until the following criteria have been met:

• They have had no fever for at least 72 hours without the use of medicine that reduces fevers AND
• Symptoms have improved for at least 72 hours AND
• At least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared

If you are concerned about the severity of your symptoms, then consult your health care provider. Contact the provider first before seeking medical care in person. Discussions for COVID-19 testing should be made with your health care provider. TCHD is not arranging for testing under most circumstances.

If you do not have symptoms, you do not need to do anything differently. If you choose to get tested for COVID-19 without symptoms, do so 7-10 days after the “Senior Sunrise” event. Be aware that a negative test result does not mean that you will not develop symptoms or become infected after the test. A negative test result only means that you did not have virus detected at the time of testing.


We ask that you and your family maintain good hand hygiene, including washing hands really well after going to the bathroom, after outdoor activities, and before touching food. Stay home when you are sick and do not go to school or work. Stay out of other group and public settings (i.e. church organizations, grocery stores, public businesses), you may spread the virus to others.

Thank you for your help.
Douglas County Public Schools Protocols for Isolation, Quarantine, and Outbreak

If a student or staff member shows symptoms of, or tests positive for COVID-19, DCSD has clear protocols in place to minimize exposure, including isolation and quarantine protocols.
Do not come to school or work if:

• If a student or staff member feels ill.
• If a student or staff member has a fever above 100.0.

Isolation is for those who have symptoms, who are sick, or who have tested positive and separates those who are infected from those who are not:

Isolate when:
• A student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19 with a positive PCR test result, or
• Has symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms, especially early on, may be mild and feel like a common cold. COVID-like symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever, loss of taste/smell, fatigue, headache, sore throat, muscle or body aches, congestion/runny nose, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea. School nurses can help determine if symptoms are or are not COVID-like.

The school leader must notify their school nurse and Executive Director of Schools (EDOS) immediately if they have a student or staff member diagnosed with COVID-19 and/or beginning isolation. (Department leaders notify nursing leaders and their cabinet representative.)

EDOS or cabinet representative for departments will immediately start a text string with the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, other EDOS, the Principal, Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Personalized Learning Officer, Public Information Officer, and Director of Operations & Maintenance.

When there is a confirmed COVID-19 case, DCSD nursing/health services contacts the Tri-County Health Department (TCHD). These officials will help DCSD determine a course of action for the school(s) impacted.

Isolate until:
• Student or staff member has had no fever for at least 24 hours without using medicine that reduces fevers, and
• Other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved), and
• At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

For those with symptoms and no test result yet, isolate until:
• Any person with COVID-like symptoms should be encouraged to see a healthcare provider and consider testing.
• Student or staff member has had no fever for at least 24 hours without using medicine that reduces fevers, and
• Other symptoms have improved

• Leaders can consult with their school nurse to verify return to school or work criteria based on alternate diagnosis or explanation of symptoms.

If isolation begins during the school day:
• Isolate the student or staff member in a designated sick area in their building until they can safely return home.
• The designated sick area will be separated from routine care/medication administration to the best degree possible.
• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be available for staff monitoring a sick student or staff member. Staff monitoring should wear a mask and face shield (both) and gloves. Parents will be contacted and asked to pick up their sick student. Schools will ask parents to have a list of people available to pick up a sick child if needed.
• Provide the parent of the student or staff member information on how to access COVID-19 testing (refer to healthcare provider, TCHD, or 211).
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