Reported COVID-19 infection rates in the Brainerd School District have plateaued and are gradually decreasing, but the numbers may be incomplete or inaccurate, school officials warned.
During a virtual meeting Monday, Nov. 30, members of the Brainerd School Board received an update on the district’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 Program Director Angela Hamilton said reports indicate COVID-19 cases are starting to drop within the district’s student body, staff and faculty, but noted it’s difficult to say if these numbers accurately reflect the situation.
Hamilton said while discussions have begun on the status of a viable COVID-19 vaccine and how the district should distribute this vaccine, there has been no official direction from the state so far and the matter is pending.
Currently, the countywide infection rate — which is calculated as the number of new cases per 10,000 people during a 14-day period — is hovering in the mid-190s and expected to slide gradually down in the near future, Hamilton noted. For comparison, the infection rate was 200.6 per 10,000 from Nov. 1-14, while the infection rate was 91.14 in the back half of October and 27.56 in mid-September. Hamilton said there were 66 staff members and roughly 50 students quarantined as of Monday’s meeting.
The distance-learning model — a measure to slow the spread of COVID-19 implemented by school districts across the state this year — complicates the methodology by which the district reports and tracks COVID-19 cases. Hamilton noted the Thanksgiving holiday may also hamper the district’s ability to judge the situation, as holiday gatherings are prime spots for COVID-19 outbreaks and Minnesota Department of Health workers were not on the job during that time.
“We're looking at our quarantine and positive numbers, we can only go by the information we received from families as well as the Department of Health,” Hamilton said. “With the school in distance learning, we are not always receiving the information when individuals are symptomatic, and therefore we are unsure if our data is accurate. It is important that we are still being notified of this information, especially when we look at trying to move forward with our safe learning plan.”
Students in fifth through 12th grades have been distancing learning since Nov. 5, while their younger cohorts in early childhood education through fourth grade have been distance learning since Nov. 18. The district is basing its assessment on a combination of regular Crow Wing County case updates, reports of cases and quarantine among ISD 181 students and staff, as well as biweekly notifications from the Minnesota Department of Health or local health care providers.
Board member Bob Nystrom said he was heartened by the news that infection rates are dropping.
“I think those numbers are really encouraging,” Nystrom said. “I'm really happy to see that we're finally seeing a drop in the number of COVID cases.”
In other business, the board:
Approved new hires: Ben Anderson, substitute teacher at Forestview Middle School; Joseph Broadbent, substitute teacher at Riverside Elementary School; Michelle Cabrera, districtwide COVID-19 secretary; Kyle Crocker, substitute teacher at Forestview; Hilary Johnson, substitute teacher at Nisswa Elementary School; Elizabeth Laven, substitute teacher at Baxter Elementary School; Stacy Littman, substitute teacher at Forestview and Brainerd High School; Logan McElfresh, intramural strength coach at BHS; Casey Miller, assistant varsity cross-country coach; Trisha Saulsbury, substitute teacher at Nisswa; Denice Tautges, district business services specialist; Sophia Winter, substitute teacher at Nisswa; Andrea Anderson, part-time building secretary at Brainerd Learning Center; Tiffanie Knapp, junior high head Nordic ski coach at Forestview; and Kevin McMenimen, routing at Washington Educational Services Building.
Received an update on construction projects throughout the district. Project managers told members work is progressing well in the districtwide revamp that includes Brainerd High School, Warrior Early Learning Center, Lowell Elementary School, Harrison Elementary School, Garfield Elementary School, new Baxter Elementary School, Nisswa Elementary School and Riverside Elementary School. By and large, projects are in the latter stages, with permits and punch-list items to complete.
Approved a second and final reading of the revised Minnesota School Board Association Policy No. 709, which amounts to an update of the student transportation safety policy. The policy revisions stipulate harsher enforcement of safety protocols for drivers, students and other occupants of district buses. Notably, a first-time misconduct offense will no longer lead to a warning, but staff now has the discretion to give up to a four-day suspension. Upon the fourth offense, the offender will be restricted from using the bus for the remainder of the year.