Some parents on the Iron Range aren't getting their kids tested for COVID-19, fearing a rise in case counts will close schools and shutdown sports.
Health officials in St. Louis County have recently addressed this, and have encouraged families to get tested, especially if they're been exposed or exhibit COVID symptoms, the Mesabi Tribune first reported.
"I am writing to update you on the COVID-19 situation in your school. In just the first two weeks of March, we have 11 confirmed cases in youth ages 5-19, and a significant percentage of these cases are linked to athletic activities. Also disturbing, we are hearing of instances of parents intentionally avoiding getting their children tested and encouraging others to do the same," St. Louis County Public Health Division Director Amy Westbrook wrote in a March 15 letter to families in the Hibbing Public School District.
In the letter, which was sent to Bring Me The News, Westbrook stressed everyone needs to do their part to help bring an end to the pandemic and cited the importance of testing student-athletes once a week and three days after any game/competition and testing students who aren't involved in activites every two weeks.
"Testing – and isolating if a test comes back positive – are critical to controlling community transmission of COVID-19. We know that COVID-19 variant strains are circulating in Minnesota communities and are increasing in prevalence," Westbrook said. "Even as great progress is being made to vaccinate eligible people, there are still at-risk individuals waiting for a vaccine. Likewise, we have immunocompromised students in our district who may be at higher risk of complications due to COVID-19 infection."
This attitude of not getting tested in an effort to keep case counts lower and keep things open is not unique to Hibbing and the Iron Range. There have been rumors of people avoiding getting tested in communities across the state for much of the pandemic.
Westbrook noted this in a statement to Bring Me The News:
“We know there are parents avoiding getting their children tested. We have no reason to believe it’s a widespread practice, and it’s certainly not unique to Hibbing – it’s also happening in other parts of the state. However, Hibbing is experiencing clusters of new cases more so than in other parts of the county, which is why we felt obligated to make parents aware of the situation, remind them of the importance of getting tested and isolating to prevent further spread, and of the state’s new recommendations about frequency of testing for students and student-athletes.”
Minnesota's first significant wave of infection happened in May-June of 2020, followed by a lull over the summer before the biggest wave to date hit October-November. Numbers trended downward for three months and now there are indications – possibly involving the B.1.1.7 variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom and has been linked to an outbreak in Carver County that's tied to youth sports – that infections are increasing. Minnesota has routinely had around 1,000 confirmed cases per day over the past week to 10 days, and hospitalizations have risen from the low 220s in early March to 318 (as of March 21).