ELY - The ISD 696 Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council (ESLPAC) continues to develop a strategy to keep students and staff in classrooms while at the same time minding public health protocols, …
ELY - The ISD 696 Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council (ESLPAC) continues to develop a strategy to keep students and staff in classrooms while at the same time minding public health protocols, especially a face mask requirement, to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
More stakeholders were included for the advisory council’s meeting last Thursday, Oct. 14, and another meeting was held on Wednesday, Oct. 21 as school administrators work with medical professionals to propose metrics that would lead to dialing back the face mask mandate.
The rule put in place at the beginning of the school year as COVID-19 cases increased was met with resistance by some district parents and residents.
Ely school board members reacted to the pushback by voting last week to take the authority to determine COVID-19 strategies out of the hands of school administrators. Instead, the board will decide by majority rule to approve or deny any health mandates on school property, as recommended by Superintendent Erik Erie.
The indoor mask mandate remains in place during regular school hours, but the board lifted a requirement for face masks for spectators at indoor after-school activities, as recommended by the administration.
A first draft of potential COVID-19 case rate data metrics to be applied in evaluating discontinuance of mandatory masking was rejected by the board last week and sent back to the ELSPAC for more work. Board members noted they did not have enough time to review the revised strategy, and some seemed opposed to the idea that vaccination rates in the school community should be considered in dialing back the mandate.
At the Oct. 11 school board meeting, Ely parent Frank Udovich criticized Erie for “starting and ending every meeting” of ESLPAC “with a long dragged out number” of COVID deaths in Minnesota. “It is just a statistic,” Udovich said. “No one seems to be impressed, and unfortunately they just make fun of you.”
At the ESLPAC meeting last Thursday, Erie addressed a recent discussion on the validity of the advisory council.
“I was asked why we continue to meet,” he said. “From my perspective, we continue to meet because people are still dying.”
Erie continued, “There was a question as to why we put out statistics about (COVID-19) deaths, and I don’t think that 8,379 people dying in Minnesota from COVID-19 is funny by any stretch. That’s the reason we are still wearing masks and the reason we are talking about mitigation strategies. If those conditions weren’t out there, we wouldn’t have to be meeting.”
Deaths in St. Louis County from COVID-19 increased from 342 to 352 people last week. The total number of deaths in the United States from the coronavirus pandemic is estimated to be in excess of 726,000.
ESLPAC members discussed mitigation strategies, including a process suggested by the school district’s athletic director, that would include considering several metrics and meeting a majority of case rate thresholds that could trigger a move to optional masking.
In the absence of any other concrete suggestions, most of the local health professionals, school staff, and community members seemed to be in favor of adding more case data metrics for developing recommendations.
Vaccination rates among students ages 12 to 18 continue to be a viable metric for possible face mask rule relaxation. Erie said that the Ely school vaccination rate is at about 41 percent for eligible students.
“I think that a vaccination rate of greater than 50 percent is a doable goal,” he said. Two vaccination clinics were held on the school campus last week for students.
At an earlier ELSPAC meeting, local physician Dr. Joe Bianco said, “With a vaccination rate of 90 percent we wouldn’t even be talking about wearing masks in school.”
In addition to the local vaccination rate, a bi-weekly COVID-19 case rate of 30 or less (per 10,000 people), for at least two consecutive weeks in northern St. Louis County was recommended as a trigger to relax mask mandates, along with a ZIP code case data point of 30 or less, also for two consecutive weeks.
Health officials have recently introduced a rolling seven-day COVID-19 case rate average per 100,000 people as a new metric to measure the increase or decrease of active cases.
Ely Public Schools COVID-19 Positive Test Count increased again on Tuesday, Oct. 19, with four new cases reported, according to Erie. Ely schools have had nine positive cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year.
ESLPAC members planned to discuss case rate metrics on Wednesday and other options for an updated recommendation for the school board to consider at their study session on Monday. A special meeting would need to be called in order for the school board to take any action.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here