Fewer COVID-19 cases could mean fewer masks at Brainerd Public Schools – Brainerd Dispatch

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BRAINERD — If new COVID-19 cases begin decreasing at Brainerd Public Schools, the district’s face covering mandate could be dialed back.

School Board members approved new parameters Monday, Jan. 24, to decide when COVID-19 mitigation strategies — like required masking — could be lessened.

The board already voted in November to no longer require masks at most after-school high school activities, as case numbers were declining at the time, and administrators believed it would be a good first step that could be measured. Cases continued to decrease through the end of 2021 but spiked again when students came back from winter break in early January. The past three weeks, the district has seen more positive cases than at any other time since the beginning of the school year.

But if cases were to start declining again, the board has a plan.

If new positive COVID-19 cases in the district decrease for three consecutive weeks and stay under 50, the recommendation is to begin implementing a phased face covering removal plan, Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn told the board Monday.

The best thing we can do is to keep evaluating the data, listening to people, hearing their concerns and act.

Kevin Boyles, Brainerd School Board member

The plan, which board members reviewed earlier this month, has five phases in which masks would no longer be required, with the first phase already implemented:

  • Phase 1: After-school high school activities.
  • Phase 2: Community facility use (non-school sponsored activities) and after-school middle school activities.
  • Phase 3: During the school day for high school students.
  • Phase 4: During the school day for middle school students.
  • Phase 5: During the school day for early childhood and elementary students, targeted services, Fun ‘N Friends, early childhood and family education activities.

Hahn said the phases are based on mitigation strategies available to students at each age level, with vaccines having been available for older students for several months but only more recently becoming available for kids ages 5-11.
Rapid tests are also widely available for students and staff in the district.

Hahn said the district also has other mitigation strategies than just masks that can be implemented if needed. For example, leaders have been responding to what they believe is increased student-to-student transmission in the classroom with measures like having students each lunch in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria or pausing programs with high numbers of cases.

The district had 180 positive cases the week of Jan. 15-21, up from 136 the prior week.

Having these strategies available, Hahn said, means online learning is a last resort.

“Our ultimate goal is to stay in-person learning as much as possible,” she said, noting this year’s mask mandate means fewer quarantines for those who have been around someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Under the parameters board members approved Monday, the phased plan would be paused if cases increase but stay under 50 a week, but additional mitigation strategies would be considered if cases continually increase at a rate of more than 50 a week.

“Everybody’s doing the best they can do. That’s the bottom line,” board member Kevin Boyles said at the end of Monday’s COVID-19 presentation. “The best thing we can do is to keep evaluating the data, listening to people, hearing their concerns and act. That’s all we can do.”

For the most up-to-date COVID-19 information at Brainerd Public Schools, including case numbers by building, visit

isd181.org/covid19

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at

theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com

or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa

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