With COVID-19 cases steadily climbing in Crow Wing County, Pequot Lakes School officials made the decision to shift their learning model beginning Monday, Nov. 9, with grades 7-12 now in a full-time distance learning model.

All three district schools were closed Thursday and Friday, Nov. 5-6, as staff prepared to shift to this new learning environment.

Superintendent Chris Lindholm said this learning model could change again - and not for the better - as soon as next week.

“We are running on fumes,” he said. “The odds of us having to go to K-12 distance learning due to staffing shortages are very, very good.”

County cases are now at a rate of more than 60 per 10,000 residents. That rate has doubled since the school’s fall break in mid-October. School officials say the number of active cases in the schools have seen a “significant jump,” and the work to contact trace those cases is outpacing the district’s abilities. In fact, 41 staff members were absent at one point.

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“At the end of the day, this is really panning out to be all about trying to staff our schools,” Lindholm said. “We hit a point last week where we just couldn’t sustain it anymore. We shifted some resources this week over to the elementary school because they are very short-staffed - 17 people out (Monday, Nov. 9)."

Grades K-6 will continue their regular in-person learning practices, but with “tighter protocols in place.” Lindholm indicated that means a much more stringent enforcement of distancing protocols.

“We are just seeing too many people out in quarantine,” he said. “If we get three or four positive cases, there ends up being 12, 15 or 20 people that have to go out.”

Lindholm said contact tracing done by the district had begun showing more student-to-student transmission at the high school level, as opposed to students contracting the virus elsewhere. Last week, four students at Eagle View Elementary School tested positive.

“We are watching really closely,” Lindholm said. “If we start seeing more student-to-student or student-to-staff transmission, that would be another reason to hit the brakes for at least a couple of weeks.

“Help us out. Help us keep kids in schools by avoiding crowds, masking up and staying healthy.”

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.