School extends COVID “reset”

Positive case rate slows, but distance learning remains until Apr. 12

by Tom Coombe
Distance learning for all students in the Ely school system will continue for at least another week.
Although a COVID-19 outbreak within the school slowed considerably this week, Ely district officials announced Wednesday that a COVID-related “reset” in the Memorial Building will be extended until April 12.
That’s the date that Washington Elementary students would also return to school under current plans.
Students in grades 6-12, who have been out of school since March 19, were originally scheduled to return to school April 6 but school administrators decided to instead “extend our reset for one more week,” principal Megan Anderson said in a message sent to parents.
“Current data indicates that we still have high numbers in our community,” said Anderson. “It is with every intention that we plan to return to in-person learning on April 12th.”
Since Mar. 15, when the district reported its first COVID-19 case in more than two months, the virus spread rapidly among high school students and later among elementary students.
As of Wednesday, the district reported 28 COVID-19 cases within the school community, including 23 in the Memorial Building and five at Washington Elementary.
The bulk of those came last week, with 23 cases overall reported from Mar. 15-24 and five more since then.
None of the cases have resulted in hospitalization.
It was a sudden jump in COVID-19 cases that prompted school officials to first close the Memorial Building to in-person learning and opt for what was first billed as a two-week “reset.”
County public health officials and Ely area health care providers were also consulted as the district moved to full distance learning for the second time during the 2020-21 school year.
School activities have also been halted, which resulted in the forfeiture of a high school boys basketball playoff game and delays of two-to-three weeks in the start of spring sports.
During the first week of the Memorial “reset” the district also decided to move the elementary school to distance learning.
At one point, nearly 90 percent of high school students were asked to quarantine because of exposure to a COVID-19 positive student, and the outbreak in Ely has captured the attention of public health officials in St. Louis County.
During the week of March 22, Ely comprised roughly 15 percent of the COVID-19 caseload in the county, and superintendent Erik Erie said Wednesday that “76 percent of the cases in northern St. Louis County are in Ely, and that includes Babbitt, Embarrass, Cook, Tower and Soudan.”
After months of dramatic declines in COVID-19 case counts, case numbers have inched back up in some parts of northern Minnesota.
Erie said that at least two other school districts - Floodwood and International Falls - have also moved temporarily to distance learning.
The rise in cases within the school was attributed in part to social gatherings and came after the entire district had gone nine straight weeks without a positive case.
Overall, there have been 43 COVID-19 cases among school students and staff during the 2020-21 school year, with all but 15 coming in the last three weeks.
Other than the current reset and a pause from late-fall into January, Ely’s elementary students have spent the bulk of the year with in-person learning, while Memorial students have only been full in-person for a week to start the school year and from early-February to mid-March.