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BILLINGS - Billings Public Schools Superintendent Greg Upham held an information update on COVID cases in the school district via a Facebook live stream on Thursday. 

Upham says the county school district superintendents meet weekly with RiverStone Health to stay up-to-date on the status of COVID cases in the county.

According to the latest update, the number of cases in schools is now 144, a sharp increase from previous weeks. Roughly 25% of this week's confirmed cases in Yellowstone County are in school-aged children, according to RiverStone Health.

One 5th grade classroom was also quarantined recently, Upham said, after four of 26 students tested positive for COVID-19.

In lieu of contact tracing, SD2 is partnering with St. John's United to provide free COVID testing for students, staff, and family members in the home. If you're interested in getting tested, you can schedule your test at covidtest.stjohnsunited.org.

In addition to the testing, Upham says the district will send a notification email or letter when there's an active case in a classroom or other group setting to inform those whose child may be a close contact. 

Billings Public Schools still require masks to be worn in classrooms. Parents who would like to opt out of having their child wear a mask are required to enroll in online learning. The deadline to sign up is Friday, Sept. 3.

When it comes to lifting the mask mandate, however, Upham says he is staying in contact with local health officials and monitoring criteria, such as the county's daily case count and cases per school. Once these numbers begin to trend in a better direction and level out, Upham says he will discuss lifting the mandate.

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