Students at Discovery Woods in Brainerd will spend the next four weeks learning from home following confirmed diagnoses of two cases of COVID-19.

Leaders of the Montessori-inspired public charter school informed parents of the decision Tuesday, Sept. 15, to transition from a hybrid learning model to distance learning. Executive Director Kristi Crocker confirmed the cases and change to the learning model in an email Wednesday.

“Though we have students in small cohorts and have implemented safety protocol, the virus can easily be brought in from outside the school setting,” Crocker wrote. “The decision was not easily made, we have to look at every aspect. We have a small learning community and many families with children in different classes, also with a lack of substitute staff, we felt the safest decision for students and staff at this time would be to implement distance learning.”

The positive tests affected three classrooms — 42 of the 84 in-person students need to be quarantined for 14 days. Distance learning will continue through Oct. 12, although Crocker said they hope to provide child care earlier than that date if possible.

“We had to consider that many of the quarantined classroom students also had siblings which were in other classrooms and many of our staff then had their own children within classrooms that needed to be quarantined as well,” Crocker wrote.

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Crocker said Discovery Woods began the school year with in-person instruction with the option for synchronous distance learning. While not technically a hybrid learning model, the school shares transportation with the Brainerd School District, so the school day ended an hour early to provide students the opportunity to use buses. Teachers used that time as well to work on instruction for distance learners.

Classrooms of students were staying within their own cohort, eating in their own classrooms, having recess in their own areas and physical education class was outside with their cohort, the executive director said. Staff adhered to health department guidance and students wore masks, she said, adding they took temperatures at the door for the first week of school.

“We have a great plan and were utilizing the outdoors as we are an environmental friendly school and even put together an outdoor classroom with cable reels as tables,” Crocker wrote. “We also have a school garden so we used that area for instruction as well. … Teachers and staff are prepared and excited for the year no matter what happens.”

Crocker said the school was prepared for the possibility of moving to distance learning and received support from school families and agencies with which it works.

“We have even had TheShop (Brainerd Baxter's Youth Center) reach out to let us know that through funding from the Blandin Foundation they are able to offer free desktop computer systems complete with mouse, keyboard, and monitor to families in need,” Crocker wrote. “It is that type of support that makes you realize why you live in the community you do.

“We are a very small Montessori inspired charter school that has been hit by COVID-19 financially, like so many other people and businesses, and any assistance and support we can get helps tremendously.”

Crocker said they will monitor to see if further positive cases are confirmed and once enough staff members are available, they will look to guidance from the health department for getting back to in-person instruction.

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center serves about 30,000 people in the Brainerd lakes area, according to the medical provider. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
Cuyuna Regional Medical Center serves about 30,000 people in the Brainerd lakes area, according to the medical provider. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

CRMC suspends visits to Care Center

A positive COVID-19 case in an employee resulted in changes Wednesday at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby.

CRMC spokeswoman Peggy Stebbins confirmed an employee of the Care Center, a long-term care facility attached to the hospital, tested positive. As a result of the positive test, all visitation at the Care Center was suspended and all employees and residents will be tested weekly.

The employee, who provides direct care to residents, became ill after working a shift Sept. 10 and has not been back to work since, Stebbins stated in an email. They are now home quarantining in accordance with state and federal health guidelines.

All residents, their family members and staff were immediately notified, according to CRMC, and as a preventive measure, all residents and employees who were in contact with the employee were screened for exposure and none had any symptoms.

“CRMC confidently believes the risk to others is low based on previous negative testing of all Care Center staff and residents, this employee’s exposure to a known household member and because of our diligent process in adhering to strict PPE guidelines implemented months ago,” stated Infection Preventionist Jenna Ritter in the emailed release. Ritter emphasized there is no evidence that the employee was exposed at work. Only two of CRMC’s 950 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, CRMC reported, and the other employee was not working in August when the positive test was received.

“For all of us at CRMC, providing the best possible care and protecting the health and wellness of residents and staff is of highest priority,” stated CEO Kyle Bauer in the release. “Our dedicated professional caregivers support staff are working tirelessly to prevent serious illnesses and provide compassionate support. We are taking all appropriate measures and doing everything possible to protect the health and wellness of all who live and work here.”

COVID-19 data as of Sept. 16

  • Aitkin — 68 (+2 since Tuesday, Sept. 15), with one death.

  • Cass — 117 (-1), with three deaths.

  • Crow Wing — 387 (+8), with 18 deaths.

  • Mille Lacs — 132 (+1), with three deaths.

  • Morrison — 181 (+4), with one death.

  • Todd — 471 (+1), with two deaths.

  • Wadena — 59 (+0).

NOTE: These numbers are cumulative since March 21 and many are out of isolation. The number of those no longer needing isolation is not reported on a county-level basis by the state.