Rapidly rising COVID-19 cases are being seen statewide in Minnesota, as evidenced in Thursday's weekly report from the Minnesota Department of Health that shows 34 counties are now above the threshold for 100% distance learning for all students, up from 25 counties a week ago.
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. You can read more further down in the story about how the "scalpel approach" is also used to assist county-level data.
The threshold for 100% distance learning is 50 or more cases per 10,000 residents, and all but one of the counties that are past that mark are outside the Twin Cities, which follows concerns about the higher rate of COVID-19 transmission in Greater Minnesota.
The 34 counties that have reached or exceeded that mark in the latest report are:
- Chippewa: 115.74 cases per 10,000 residents
- Nobles: 114.93
- Polk: 113.32
- Roseau: 111.24
- Todd: 108.02
- Clay: 105.57
- Morrison: 100.46
- Rock: 96.67
- Hubbard: 94.43
- Kandiyohi: 94.24
- Clearwater: 88.52
- Murray: 85.00
- Wadena: 84.27
- Stearns: 81.50
- Red Lake: 79.84
- Kittson: 78.40
- Norman: 70.13
- Benton: 68.88
- Marshall: 68.14
- Chisago: 67.79
- Big Stone: 65.79
- Mahnomen: 65.38
- Lincoln: 64.83
- Wilkin: 61.49
- Washington: 58.54
- Douglas: 58.33
- Pipestone: 56.61
- Becker: 54.78
- Mille Lacs: 54.42
- Crow Wing: 53.25
- Wabasha: 51.63
- Otter Tail: 50.70
- Beltrami: 50.52
- Lyon: 50.31
Just one of the 34 counties listed above are in the Twin Cities metro area. Here are the infection rates for the seven-county metro:
- Anoka: 48.70 (up from 39.23 last week)
- Carver: 25.59 (up from 18.81 last week)
- Dakota: 33.40 (up from 29.05 last week)
- Hennepin: 34.25 (up from 28.88 last week)
- Ramsey: 34.07 (up from 31.03 last week)
- Scott: 37.32 (up from 29.15 last week)
- Washington: 58.49 (up from 43.94 last week)
There are 38 counties with infection rates between 30 and less than 50, which calls for a hybrid model for elementary students and distance learning for grades 6-12. Only 15 counties are under 30 cases per 10,000 residents.
Carlton County has just over 38 cases per 10,000 residents, but Cloquet School District has decided anyway to move to full distance learning or all grades due to high case numbers and staffing shortages in the district.
"This spike has led to large-scale quarantine of students and staff and is crippling our ability to provide in-person schooling, along with meeting the other requirements placed upon schools," Superintendent Michael Cary said in a news release. "We had sincerely hoped to keep our students learning in person for as long as possible."
The majority of Twin Cities districts have moved to distance learning for grades 6-12 despite county infection rates being below the 50 threshold.
"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.
More about the "scalpel approach"
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. 11-24. Since then, cases have continue to grow in Minnesota, including a single-day record of 3,956 new cases confirmed in Thursday's report from the health department.