COVID cases climb in Ely

by Tom Coombe
COVID-19 case numbers in Greater St. Louis County, the metric used to help determine school learning models, rose again this week.
Data released Thursday morning showed a sharp increase, with biweekly cases per 10,000 people rising to 37.6, up from 25.5 and 18.2, respectively, the previous two weeks.
Ely school officials acknowledged the trend at a board study session earlier in the week and planned to consult with public health officials as they ponder potential changes in learning models.
Three cases of COVID-19 in the Ely school community were also disclosed Oct. 23, putting groups of middle and elementary school students temporarily into distance learning. Ely also had its first significant jump in cumulative cases in several weeks, with seven residents of the 55731 zip code testing positive in the last seven days.
Overall, the district’s learning model has remained the same for several weeks, with a hybrid model for middle and high school students and those in grades K-5 continuing with in-person education.
Administrators briefed board members Monday about what a potential shift might look like, if the district were to move to the next level and consider a full hybrid model.
While the model would change, only the fifth grade’s attendance pattern would be shifted as a result.
Principal Anne Oelke said that a move to hybrid in the elementary would shift fifth grade into an “A/B” model in which each group would be in school two days per week with distance learning the remaining days.
Class sections in grades K-4 are small enough at Washington Elementary to allow for in-person education to continue under a shift to hybrid.
“It really would only effect the fifth-grade class,” superintendent Erik Erie said of possible shift.
Members of the school’s Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council were set to meet Thursday, after the Echo’s deadline, to review the latest numbers.
School officials say any changes will be communicated with parents and Erie told the board that the district is working to keep students in school.
“We want to keep students in school,” said Erie. “We want to keep people safe and we want to keep our employees safe, and we don’t want to end up in distance learning.”
Some area school districts, including neighboring St. Louis County District 2142, have opted to continue with in-person learning despite the jump in cases.
The district must provide child care for “Tier 1 critical workers” in the event of a switch to distance learning, and the school has gathered information from parents for planning purposes.
Yet administrators have stressed that any changes will come with ample warning.
“If the elementary had to distance learn, it’s big change for families,” said Oelke. “It would really alter things for families.”
Megan Anderson, principal in the Memorial building, said that about 15 members of the eighth-grade class and one instructor had to quarantine because of the positive case in that building.
“They are in distance learning until Nov. 3,” said Anderson. “That is the plan right now.”
This was the first time in four weeks that a positive case had been reported within the school community, and the three total cases brought the district’s cumulative total to seven for the school year.
Among residents of the 55731 zip code, COVID-19 cases climbed by seven this week, going from 40 to 47. That number was 34 on Sept. 24.