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Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus School COVID numbers low ahead of spring breaks

School spring breaks could determine what, if any, mitigation efforts remain at local school districts

Cass County Covid case rates.png
This graph of Cass County coronavirus cases, provided on March 10, 2022, shows a steady decline in cases since Jan. 20.
Contributed / Cass County Health, Human and Veteran Services
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Exactly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone's lives in the lakes area, case numbers have plummeted statewide. School spring breaks could determine what, if any, mitigation efforts remain at local school districts.

Both the Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes school districts have seen cases drop precipitously in the past month or so.

Pine River-Backus School District

In the Pine River-Backus School District, the COVID-19 infection rate couldn't be lower.

"We don't have any current active positives that we are aware of that we are tracking right now," said Superintendent Jon Clark. "We always kind of hold our breath and knock on wood when we say that because there are so many home tests going out now and we hope everybody shares information with us."

The district has had fewer than five cases for several weeks in a row. Clark announced this same information at the March 7 school board meeting.

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Throughout Cass County the number of COVID-19 cases has been on a steady decline since Jan. 20, according to updates Gina Zubke, of Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services, provides weekly. The infection rate in the county is currently considered low.

Pine River-Backus Schools have some mitigation efforts still in effect. Entrances to the school still have sanitation stations and some close contact settings are still equipped with clear barriers. Masks are still available for those who wish to wear them. The district still has tests available.

"It's all parental choice and student choice on what they feel like they need to do," Clark said.

What precautions remain will be considered following the district's March 21-25 spring break. During spring break, staff and students might travel to places where they are in contact with people from other areas. In the past, some spikes have followed similar breaks.

"We kind of hit a peak when we came back from Christmas. We saw a real big Thanksgiving spike and Halloween, and when we came back in January things started leveling off a bit," Clark said.

These spikes occurred at a time when there weren't as few cases statewide or nationally with the Centers for Disease Control revising its own recommendations recently to be less strict. The district is hoping numbers remain low after the break. If so, some changes might be made.

Clark said some precautions might remain, such as the sanitation stations. Students will also remain welcome to wear masks, and some of the barriers in the school could be left in place if staff members request it.

"Those are optional and very easy for us to maintain," Clark said. "There are some specific locations I think it would definitely benefit (to have sanitation stations). Kind of by our food service area where kids come in and eat or close to the bathroom areas coming in. We'll probably keep some of those."

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Clark and the school board have expressed during the past year that they are happy with the results of their mitigation efforts.

"I think our staff, students and parents really rose to the occasion and did what we needed to do to keep our school open," Clark said. "We've been able to maintain a good school presence this year without missing any days due to COVID-19 and their efforts are greatly appreciated."

Pequot Lakes School District

In the Pequot Lakes School District, two of the past four weeks have seen no new COVID-19 cases reported, and the other two reported fewer than five each.

"Since the start of February, the number of students and staff that were infectious with COVID-19 while in our school building has declined rapidly," Pequot Lakes Superintendent Kurt Stumpf said. "Since Feb. 14, we have had less than five students and staff be at school while infectious with COVID-19."

Stumpf said he believes roughly 5% of individuals in the district still wear a mask on a regular basis. The drop in cases has taken considerable pressure off the district to find substitutes or add to the workload of healthy staff members covering for those out sick.

The situation in the school district mirrors that of the county as a whole. Cases were relatively high in Crow Wing County in January, but have significantly decreased since.

"Case numbers have pretty much flattened out," Crow Wing County Public Health Supervisor Michelle Moritz said. "We had a steep increase in cases from January and February and now we have basically flattened out with minimal numbers of cases being added to the total count."

While there is a mild risk of an increase in cases with families set to travel for spring break next week, neither Stumpf nor Moritz sees reason for significant concern.

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"We still have a large supply of COVID-19 at-home test kits, KN95 masks and KN98 masks," Stumpf said. "Our families have done a great job communicating with the school district this year and I expect that to continue throughout the school year."

On the county side, Moritz's only concern with spring breaks is the possibly of families and individuals bringing home a new variant, although the latest variant - a mix of the delta and omicron variants unofficially labeled "deltacron" - has been deemed to be not of much concern.

"We have small numbers of cases right now, but it's not done," Moritz said. "So (any concern) would be just if we saw new variants come and circulate in our community."

Despite cases dropping, Moritz still wanted to remind people that local health care facilities continue to offer the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I certainly am hopeful that we have seen the worst of COVID here this past January and February. Time will tell if this is the end of the coronavirus circulating and mutating … It has been great to see all the families come together in the different agencies that have been involved in supporting our community members that were in need during the pandemic," Moritz said.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Dan Determan, sports writer/staff writer, 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.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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