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25 counties have COVID-19 infection rates associated with distance-learning model

County-level data is no longer the only source districts have to rely on to make informed decisions about which learning model to use.

Infection rates continue to rise in almost all 87 counties in Minnesota, and Thursday's updated county infection rates released by the Minnesota Department of Health reveal that 62 counties have reached the distance learning-level threshold.

The infection rates are specifically designed to help school districts make an informed decision about learning models, be it in-person instruction, distance learning or a hybrid of the two – and it's based on the number of cases per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period.

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Twenty-five counties have 50 or more cases per 10,000 residents, which calls for distance learning for all grades. A further 37 counties have 30 to less than 50 cases per 10,000 residents, meaning full distance learning for all middle and high school grades.

Here are the 25 counties with the highest infection rates:  

  • Rock County: 120.05 cases per 10,000 residents
  • Chippewa County: 111.57
  • Kandiyohi County: 92.36
  • Morrison County: 85.59
  • Clay County: 82.96
  • Wadena County: 80.61
  • Hubbard County: 78.61
  • Todd County: 78.56
  • Murray County: 73.03
  • Mahnomen County: 70.83
  • Nobles County: 70.52
  • Wilkin County: 66.21
  • Stearns County: 65.58
  • Lincoln County: 64.83
  • Mille Lacs County: 64.13
  • Big Stone County: 61.80
  • Lac qui Parle County: 57.58
  • Clearwater County: 56.74
  • Benton County: 54.30
  • Red Lake County: 52.40
  • Polk County: 52.23
  • Chisago County: 51.53
  • Lyon County: 51.47
  • Pipestone County: 51.17
  • Becker Count: 50.04

None of the 25 counties listed above are in the Twin Cities metro area. Here are the infection rates for the seven-county metro: 

  • Anoka County: 39.23 cases per 10,000 residents
  • Carver County: 18.81
  • Dakota County: 29.05
  • Hennepin County: 28.88
  • Ramsey County: 31.03
  • Scott County: 29.15
  • Washington County: 43.98

You can see the full list of Minnesota's 87 counties and their infection rates per 10,000 residents dating back to May right here

"Any increase in case incidence can represent a greater risk, but schools may consider a 14-day case rate of 10 or more cases per 10,000 to be an elevated risk of disease transmission within the local community, especially when the level of cases per week is sustained or increasing over time," the state health department says. 

School districts are advised by the Department of Education (MDE) to use county-level infection rates as a source of information when deciding which learning model is safest. But this week the department also introduced the "scalpel approach," which allows school districts and charter schools within the same county to have different learning models. Here's the scalpel approach being explained by MDE Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller. 

"For example: a county may have four school districts within its boundaries which would give them all the same county base data; however, when each of the school districts review their community data and school data, their viral spread might be vastly different. As a result, some of the districts in that county may need to move to distance learning while others can remain in hybrid. Beyond this, some districts may have local factors or mitigation strategies that allow or prohibit students from accessing learning in person. This scalpel approach is why some school districts that have high county-level case data are still operating in an in-person or hybrid learning model."

County infection rates are updated weekly and based on a two-week period of when tests are collected. The latest report represents data from Oct. 4-17. Since then, cases have continue to grow in Minnesota, including a single-day record of 2,872 new cases confirmed in Thursday's report from the health department. 

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