ELY – The hallways and classrooms of the Ely school buildings were quiet this week as the district implemented a return to distance learning for K-12 students due to an exploding case rate of the coronavirus in the school community.
The Washington Elementary school began a two-week safe learning reset on Monday and transitioned to stay-at-home learning for all students in grades K-5. Administrators hope to bring elementary students back to in-person learning on Monday, April 12.
All grades 6-12 students in the Memorial School building transitioned to distance learning beginning on March 19 with a targeted end date of Tuesday, April 6.
With two positive cases of COVID-19 reported last Wednesday and three additional cases reported last Friday, ISD 696 confirmed that 27 positive COVID-19 cases in the school community from Monday, March 15 to Tuesday, March 30, 23 in the Memorial building and four in Washington Elementary, according to Superintendent Erik Erie. The cumulative count for the school year stood at 42 as of March 30.
“The majority of the positive COVID-19 cases are in the Memorial Building,” said K-5 Principal Anne Oelke. “However, we are watching the siblings of the families very closely and are anticipating further spread.”
Prompted by the COVID-19 spread in the Ely community and the increased positive COVID-19 cases in a short amount of time in the schools, ISD 696 administrators consulted with the St. Louis County Public Health Department last Wednesday to implement the “reset” in the Washington Elementary Building.
During a distance learning period in the school district, no child care services are provided. There are no extracurricular activities, and no events or services as the buildings are shut down.
Meal pickup is available daily between 11:30 -11:45 a.m. at the handicap door on the north side of the Memorial Building. Each student will be provided a free hot lunch pack out (Wednesday are bagged lunches), as well as a bagged breakfast for the following day. Please call Kim Puzel at 218-365-1735 to reserve your student’s lunch.
“We will continue to monitor the Ely community spread and school community spread as well as consultation with the Minnesota Department of Health and St. Louis County Public Health,” Oelke said.
“We would still like families to report to the school nurse when students are sick and consulting with their health care providers for COVID-19 testing,” she said. “Please continue to call the school nurse, as this will ensure continued data collection for our decision-making. This information is vital for our school to return to in-person learning.”
In announcing the “significant” increase in COVID-19 cases here, St. Louis County Health Department officials reminded people to get tested and quarantine if they’ve been exposed in order to prevent further transmission of the virus.
“We know people are tired, and probably have been experiencing information overload about COVID-19 precautions this past year,” St. Louis County Public Health Director Amy Westbrook said in a statement.
“But outbreaks such as what we’ve seen in several of our communities in the last two weeks make it very clear that we can’t let our guard down yet. Vaccinations are making a difference, but we still must all remain vigilant and do our part to minimize the spread of this virus.”
In the past week, there have been nearly three dozen confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ely, which represents 15 percent of the total cases for all of St. Louis County.
St. Louis Public Health says some of the cases “appear to be travel related” but others are linked to social gatherings and youth sports.