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Northland schools sound Covid alarm


October 16, 2020

Carlton County school superintendents were among 35 different school districts in the Northland to send a heartfelt message to residents Friday.

Help us keep kids in school, they said. Wear your masks, wash your hands, observe social distancing guidelines, keep family and social gatherings outdoors, and stay home if you’re sick. Just four weeks into the school year, many schools across Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties have had to move to more restrictive learning models because of the “sharp increases in positive Covid-19 cases.”

It’s a rise due to behaviors by those in the community more than the school, they said, in a letter emailed to news outlets across nine countiesa.

“We have been given requirements from the Minnesota Department of Health that we are following, and it is working,” the letter read. “Transmission is happening in community settings and at family and social gatherings,” the letter stated.

“We want our kids in school as much as possible. You, the great people in our communities, have said you also want our kids in school. We know of only one way that gives us the best chance at safely keeping our kids in school, sports, and activities.”

“Do it for our kids,” the letter said.

After the state-mandated shutdown of many businesses and schools in the spring, it seemed that the worst of the pandemic was behind us. With the advent of colder weather and more indoor activities, Covid cases are rising more quickly across the state and in the Northland.

On July 13 — once the Moose Lake prison got its surge of cases under control — Carlton County’s cumulative cases was at 96. That number grew by 120 over the next two months, reaching 216 cumulative cases by Sept. 14. As of Wednesday, Oct. 14, a month later, the number was up to 355, growing twice as fast in just a month.

According to a story by Minnesota Public Radio, Central Minnesota cases are “skyrocketing” relative to its population. Northern Minnesota, previously the part of the state least affected by Covid, has also seen its caseload “grow dramatically in recent weeks.”

State and local officials are also making it easier to track the spread of the disease.

MDH is still providing a “county health number” every Thursday, which serves as a guideline to area school districts. As long as that number is below 10 per 10,000 people, all students can attend school in person. Two weeks ago, on Oct. 1, that number jumped to 11.25 from 6.75 the week before, precipitating a change to hybrid learning for secondary students in any schools that hadn’t already made the switch. Last Thursday, Oct. 8, that number jumped again, to 18.85. If it crosses 20, elementary students will have to switch to hybrid learning. If it crosses 30, secondary students will switch to distance learning while elementary stays on hybrid.

To keep those who want the most up-to-date local numbers informed, local school districts such as Esko and Cloquet have created Covid “dashboards” on their website, which offer a breakdown of new cases and cases to date by building.

On Wednesday, Oct. 14, the Cloquet dashboard said it hadn’t been updated since Oct 8, when there were zero new cases reported at any of the schools. Total cases to date at the high school were at two, the middle school and Washington Elementary had one each, Churchill Elementary had four total cases to date, and CAAEP had zero. Esko, on the other hand, reported new cases, total active cases and total cases by date, with zero new cases as of Wednesday, three active cases and 13 cases to date.

Cloquet superintendent Michael Cary said the dashboard will allow parents and others to keep track of any new infections, and allow the district to stop sending the same email to people who don’t need to quarantine every time there is a new case. The district will update the page only when there are new cases, he said.

The Minnesota Department of Health also makes numbers available weekly by zip code.

Here’s how the weekly MDH reports shows the increases for local zip codes and by dates, including Sept. 24, Oct. 1, and Oct. 8, the most recent available date.

• 55720 (Cloquet): 101; 113; 133

• 55707 (Barnum): 22; 26; 31

• 55718 (Carlton): 10, 13, 14

• 55726 (Cromwell): 9; 10, 10

• 55767 (Moose Lake): 57;

58; 58

Zip codes for Wrenshall, Holyoke and Sawyer all showed cases at equal to or fewer than five.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Wednesday that the state is seeing widespread community transmission, echoing the point made by the school superintendents in their letter last week.

People “have it within their control to make things better.” She recommended Minnesotans continue to follow the simple guidelines issued by the state: wear masks in indoor public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if you don’t feel well and get tested if you have any concerns about exposure or symptoms.

Local testing sites include CMH Raiter Clinic, Min No Aya Win Human Services Center, MedExpress Urgent Care in Cloquet, Gateway Family Clinic in Moose Lake and Cromwell Medical Clinic. There is also a free saliva testing site at the DECC in Duluth.


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