In-person school to resume

After mid-March spike, no current active cases in school community

by Tom Coombe
The Ely schools will welcome students back to the campus for in-person learning, starting Monday.
School officials confirmed that a “reset,” prompted by a surge in COVID-19 cases among students, will come to an end and children in all grades may return to the Washington and Memorial buildings.
After reporting 28 cases within the school community from March 15-March 31, the district had no active cases as of Wednesday, according to superintendent Erik Erie.
“We’re at zero positive cases as of today,” said Erie.
That was one of several factors that prompted school administrators, after a consultation with county public health officials, to bring students back to the campus as planned. School activities, which have been halted during the reset and resulted in the forfeiture of a playoff basketball game, will also resume.
Students in grades 6-12 have been out of school since March 19, while the elementary school moved to distance learning the following week.
The district had gone two months without a positive case before the sudden outbreak, including 23 positive tests from March 15-24.
That growth later slowed and has since stopped, with no new cases reported in the last week. 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.
School officials set a goal of returning on Apr. 12, and Erie said that administrators opted for a full return rather than other possibilities, such as a hybrid model for the high school.
“When you go out (to a reset) you can come back to the learning model you left, which for us was full in-person,” said Erie.
The halt in cases was one factor that weighed into the decision, according to Erie.
Vaccinations among school faculty and staff also played a role.
“Everybody has had an opportunity to get one,” said Erie.
While the district is prohibited from releasing specific vaccination information, Erie said that “most” school personnel have opted to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccinations for some school personnel began as early as January.
The school will continue to apply mitigation and safety measures related to COVID-19, with high school students still attending classes in “cohorts” and the elementary working under what Erie termed as “hybrid protocols with social distancing.”
The district has also promoted COVID-19 testing among students and staff, and distributed about 250 testing kids in a two-day period last week.
“That was great to see,” said Erie.
Parents continue to have the option to choose distance learning for their children.
While COVID case numbers within the school community have declined, case numbers remain high in the Ely area and northern half of St. Louis County.
Erie said that in the northern half of the county, biweekly case rates are at 46 per 10,000, which bring a recommendation for distance learning in high schools and hybrid for elementary.
But the biweekly case rate is “trending down” and is expected to dip by roughly 20 points next week, Erie indicated.
At one point, nearly 90% of high school students were asked to quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19 positive students, 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 county health officials told school administrators this week that nearly three-fourths of the active cases in northern St. Louis County are from the Ely area.
After months of dramatic declines in COVID-19 case counts, case numbers have inched up across the state.
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.