At the Sept. 27 regular meeting of the McGregor School Board, Brea Hamdorf of Aitkin County Public Health presented the COVID-19 matrix, which was developed with help from McGregor’s superintendent and school nurse.
“If you recall, last year we were in a state of emergency order that allowed us to implement mask mandates,” Hamdorf explained. “We no longer have that, so it’s really up to families to determine whether masks will be mandated.”
In June, the county had 11 COVID-19 cases. In July there were 18 cases, August 92 cases and September up to 116 cases, Hamdorf explained.
The recommendations on the matrix apply only to students, not staff (who are all vaccinated).
“Public health was really adamant on including both symptomatic and COVID-19-positive cases. Logical decisions were made about what is happening in schools and what we can do to prevent spread of respiratory illnesses in the schools, as we developed this matrix,” Hamdorf said. The next logical steps include social distancing, increased ventilation and quarantining close contacts for a period.
Including symptomatic students will help keep students with other contagious respiratory illnesses at home as well.
In response to a question from the board, Hamdorf said that 99% of the cases at the state level are currently thought to be the Delta variant of the COVID-19. Those determinations are made at the state level, but the testing is currently several weeks behind.
“If it is a PCR test like what is done at Riverwood, the test is very accurate,” she said.
“The county government (county board) will not approve a county-wide mask mandate,” added Hamdorf, but public health does recommend masking at this time, consistent with CDC recommendations.
In Aitkin County as a whole, community transmission level is currently “high.” Eight school children in the county tested positive last week, with two of those being in the McGregor district. Anything over 100 cases for 100,000 population in a seven-day period is considered to be high. That would be 16 people for Aitkin County.
The current seven-day case rate per 100,000 population is 264. This is 42 cases for Aitkin County. The 14-day case rate per 10,000 population is 44.84 for purposes of comparing with last year.
Superintendent Brad Johnson presented the two charts, the first based on low, med, substantial and high transmission levels. Right now the county is in the high category. Zero to 37 students is in yellow; up to 10%, go to orange (social distance at lunch), quarantine close contacts of positives, screening visitors, masks recommended and masks required in buses.
If more than 15% or 75 students in the McGregor School building have symptoms or test positive, the whole school would go to distance learning, Johnson explained.
There is a second chart based on the number of cases in a classroom instead. That would allow a grade level to go to distance learning without including the entire school body.
Hamdorf explained that best practice for household contacts is for them to quarantine together for 14 days after last contact, or 24 days total. For household contacts, their period of isolation starts when the first positive family member finishes their quarantine period.
Board members estimated that right now between 5 and 15% of students are wearing masks in school.
“If anyone is symptomatic they should stay home and get tested. Lesser, common and more common symptoms are all listed on the matrix,” said Hamdorf.
Currently, the project additions are in progress; footings are complete including block walls sub-grade. Next, the contractors will move on to Phase 2. Beyond that, they are targeting having everything up to, but not including, the roof steel by mid November.
“When the spring thaw arrives, it will be pedal to the metal so that the classrooms are available for use by the start of classes next fall,” said Brian Lonquist of Nexus Solutions.
“Twice last week excavators hit an electrical line underground. The first was an unmarked line, but two days following that they hit a brand new main line to the building. No one was injured but it was replaced within one day so that everything was up and running again,” Lonquist said. “That second incident will be the responsibility of the contractor.”
Lonquist concluded with a report on an unexpected discovery of contaminated soil from an old bus refueling station that had to be removed and decontaminate by hauling to a disposal site. It will cost in the range of $3,500-4,000 to mitigate with clean fill. “This was an unforeseen, discovered situation that could not be predicted,” he said.
Board members agreed unanimously to set the 2021-2022 levy at the maximum level, in case they are able to adjust it downward later. Once set, it cannot be adjusted upward.
The truth in taxation hearing is set for Dec. 13.
Board members unanimously approved adoption of the district’s new strategic plan as amended. The draft plan was amended following an earlier public review that followed a two-month planning process. The plan goes into effect immediately. Board members agreed that there would be accountability built in to the implementation of the plan.
VAPING IN SCHOOL
Vaping has become a really big problem in the high school, said Principal Bob Staska. Students are rapidly becoming addicted and it is a distraction for other students when vaping students are repeatedly asking to leave the classroom.
Board members discussed what resources might be available to help students who want it. School resource officer Jon Cline has been looking into county ordinances.