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Masks not coming off anytime soon: School, county COVID-19 case rates remain high

The face covering requirement will stay in place at least as long as the county's 14-day per 10,000 case rate.

101421.N.BD.SchoolCOVIDUpdate
Brainerd School Board members discuss matters during their meeting Monday, Oct. 13, 2021, at the Washington Educational Services Building. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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A combination of Crow Wing County and school district data will determine when students at Brainerd Public Schools are no longer required to wear masks.

To determine how COVID-19 numbers in the district relate to the county, administrators used the same formula as county officials to calculate the 14-day per 10,000 resident case rate.

For Sept. 19-Oct. 2, that rate in Crow Wing County was 123.4. Using the same formula with the district’s staff and student population of 7,321, the school district’s 14-day rate for Sept. 22-Oct. 5 was 120.2.

“What this proves is that we’re definitely a microcosm of the county. The county seat resides right here in Brainerd Public Schools,” Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn told the school board Monday, Oct. 12, noting Brainerd’s COVID-19 numbers are more reflective of Crow Wing County data than the other two schools in the county — Pequot Lakes and Crosby-Ironton.

District case counts are not necessarily reflective of in-school transmission, as the mitigation strategies — like the mask mandate — practiced within the school district are not in place in many other public places throughout the county. The CDC recommends fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission. Vaccinated individuals may also choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at an increased risk for severe disease if exposed to the coronavirus, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated.

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The 14-day case rate is one of the mechanisms that will be used when determining how long to enforce the district’s mask mandate. According to the matrix school board members approved earlier this year, face coverings will continue to be required indoors as long as the 14-day case rate is 50 or higher. Once that rate begins to decline, school administrators and board members will begin discussing the possibility of relaxing the policy.

“It’s fair to say that masks are on for a little while yet for sure,” board member Kevin Boyles said Monday. “The good news is, as we look around the country, it appears that areas that spiked before we did are receding. We are one of the top five states in the nation right now. Our numbers aren’t great. So one can anticipate that those should fall like the rest of the nation and come down.”

The district already saw a decrease in positive cases over the last few weeks, with 56 cases reported during the period of Sept. 22-28 and 32 from Sept. 29-Oct. 5.

District officials said they will continue paying close attention to those numbers, as well as cases in individual buildings.

An updated COVID-19 dashboard on the district’s website at isd181.org/covid19 now shows positive case and quarantine numbers at each district building, both week-by-week and cumulatively since the beginning of the school year.

In other business Monday, the board:

Approved new hires: Jamie Boesen, long-term substitute first grade teacher at Riverside Elementary; John McDonald, long-term substitute special education teacher at Lowell Elementary; Hannah Peterson, fourth grade teacher at Baxter Elementary; Amber Adams, special education paraprofessional at Forestview Middle School; Tanicia Brogerg, behavior management specialist at Brainerd High School; Debra Condiff, special education paraprofessional at BHS; Taylor Kimman, paraprofessional at Forestview; Krista Schmidt, special education paraprofessional at BHS; Katelyn Zeroth, behavior management specialist at Lincoln Education Center; Benjamin Anderson, student council co-adviser at Forestview; Jonathan Bostrom, athletic official at Forestview; Jessica Lofrano-Larson, head girls gymnastics coach at BHS; and Tate Rusk, head girls hockey coach at BHS.

Accepted donations to the district: $200 from Costco for the district’s food service Angel Fund; a barnwood metal entry sign from Brett Carlson, Rod Berg and an anonymous donor for Lowell Elementary; and 2,000 pounds of scrap sheet metal from Metalwerx for the BHS welding shop.

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Tabled action on the elimination of health benefits for newly elected or assigned school board members.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
Related Topics: EDUCATIONCORONAVIRUS
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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