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South Washington County Schools is warning parents and students that rising COVID cases have led to further staffing shortages — and that distance learning is around the corner.

The district, in an announcement Friday, said it has seen "a significant increase in positive COVID-19 cases" as the first trimester nears its close. At some of the SoWashCo elementary schools, 2% of students have contracted COVID.

This surge is putting added stress on staffing shortages. 

"With the rise in positive cases, finding substitutes is increasingly challenging," the district wrote.

The combination of COVID spread and lack of staff means parents and students should be ready for a possible shift to distance learning, with classrooms potentially going remote for up to 10 calendar days.

Related: Minnesota will expand COVID booster eligibility to all over 18s, even if federal government doesn't

"We ask for your grace and patience as these shortages apply to all of our staff who keep our school district running including teachers, paraprofessionals, nutrition services workers, bus drivers and custodians," the district wrote.

SoWashCo comprises 24 schools in cities including Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park, Woodbury, Afton, and Denmark and Grey Cloud Island Townships, with 18,400 students ranging from preK-12.

The district is actively recruiting new hires, including for substitute teacher spots and other staff positions. Administrators told FOX 9 they have about 100 open teacher or paraprofessional jobs.

The SoWashCo announcement comes amid a troubling spike in COVID cases throughout the state. Case rates in Minnesota are among the highest in the entire country, with the positivity rate reaching high-risk levels not seen since December of 2020 — immediately following one of the worst periods of the pandemic.

Minnesota schools have been hit particularly hard during the early months of the school year, with thousands of new child cases reported last week. There were also 14 students hospitalized, one of them in intensive care. Health officials say eight school staffers have died from COVID since in-person learning resumed in September.

Related: Since delta arrived, COVID deaths have mostly happened in less-vaccinated Greater Minnesota

Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller issued a plea to families with school-age children Tuesday, urging them to take simple protection measures: wear a mask to school, get vaccinated, take part in regular testing when needed and practice social distancing.

“We have learned a lot since the beginning of the pandemic, and our priorities remain the same: first, maintaining the safety, health and wellness of our students, staff and families; and second, ensuring students can stay in their classrooms for safe in-person learning," Mueller said in a news release.

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