Wright County’s COVID-19 case counts per 10,000 residents have thus far continued to stick firmly in the second-tier range for Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan, which allows for elementary students to return full-time to classrooms and secondary students to return on a hybrid schedule. The St. Michael-Albertville school board approved this learning model for the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year at a meeting earlier this month.
However, in STMA superintendent Ann-Marie Foucault’s most recent message to families, she stated that rising case counts in St. Michael and Albertville could cause the Minnesota Department of Health to step in and enforce a stricter learning model than Wright County’s model requires.
STMA Specific Data
Ellie Vanasse, a Wright County public health nurse, said school districts are not required to make decisions using city-level data per the governor’s Safe Learning Plan, but she did provide information to show that cases within the city limits of St. Michael and Albertville have been on the increase throughout August.
Vanasse said 14-day case rate calculations are made by taking the total number of cases in a city for the last 14 days divided by (city population/10,000). For the cities of St. Michael and Albertville combined, the 14-day case rate was 16.54 on August 1. The case rate exceeded 20 by Aug. 11, and then exceeded 30 by Aug. 19. The most recent data available, from Aug. 21, shows a case rate per 10,000 in STMA at 34.65.
“Case rate data for schools is based on specimen collection date which isn’t confirmed until case interviews are done, which is why we don’t provide case rate in the last week,” Vanasse explained.
If STMA’s current case rate of 34.65 were the whole of Wright County’s case rate, the state’s Safe Learning Plan would be calling for hybrid learning for elementary students and distance learning for secondary students. Distance learning for all students would be called for if county case rates per 10,000 residents hit 50 or more.
On a positive note, the most recent data available still shows St. Michael and Albertville zip codes maintaining total case percentages similar to those of other Wright County zip codes, when accounting for population size. For instance, as of Aug. 27, St. Michael’s zip code of 55376 has had a total of 204 COVID-19 cases this year. With an estimated population of 18,642, this means 1.09 percent of St. Michael has tested positive for COVID-19 at some point. Albertville, with 134 cases as of Aug. 27 and an estimated population of 7,603, has a total case rate of 1.76 percent.
Western Wright County cities have lower total cases, but proportionate to their lower populations. For example, Maple Lake has had just 30 cases, but with a population of just over 2,000 people, their total case percentage is about 1.4 percent. Howard Lake’s percentage is nearly identical to Maple Lake’s, and Monticello’s percentage is around 1.2 percent, just higher than St. Michael’s, but slightly lower than Albertville’s.
What you can do
Foucault said she was surprised to hear from MDH that case counts have been on the increase in STMA, as she said she’s been closely monitoring local case counts for months. She asked for the community’s help to level off case rates and help ensure STMA students can receive in-person instruction, such as wearing masks, maintaining distance from those outside of your home, and good hand hygiene and cleaning practices. She said STMA will continue with its planned learning models unless MDH chooses to change it.
“I am very confident that we can keep students and staff safe with our current learning models and health and safety plans,” Foucault said.