You’ve probably heard a version of this sentence swirling through the news for about a month, “The district could have to transition between in-person, hybrid and distance learning options based on COVID-19 cases per 10,000 in Wadena County over a two-week period.” The parameters come as a part of the Safe Learning Plan from Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Departments of Education and Health.

Here are the basics as known at the start of the school year:

How are the number of cases per 10,000 calculated?

The case rate is calculated by the total number of cases in Wadena County over the last 14 days divided by the county population over 10,000. In Wadena County, the population used is 13,773 based on the 2018 United States Census Bureau American Community Survey estimate. Case rates can be checked on the MDH website.

The case rates for Minnesota school districts to transition between in-person, hybrid and distance learning are calculated by the total number of cases in the county over 14 days divided by the county population over 10,000.
The case rates for Minnesota school districts to transition between in-person, hybrid and distance learning are calculated by the total number of cases in the county over 14 days divided by the county population over 10,000.

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The most recent data shows that between June 14 and Aug. 8, Wadena County never saw more than 4.4 cases per 10,000 during each two-week period. So, while school is not in session yet most of the summer has remained within the threshold to maintain in-person learning for all students locally.

How will school districts transition between options?

The state outlined the three options of in-person, hybrid and distance learning with five categories of case rates and scenarios for schools to transition through. An increased case rate means students transition to hybrid or distance learning with middle and high school students transitioning first and then elementary students if the rate continues to increase. For example, at a case rate of 10-19 elementary students would have in-person learning and middle and high school students hybrid learning.

During the summer, data shows that the worst case rates were the two weeks following July 4. In that period here's how the state's 87 counties would have looked with school in session: 39 with in-person learning for all students; 33 with elementary in-person, middle/high school hybrid; nine with both in hybrid; three with elementary hybrid, middle/high school distance; and three with all distance.

The Wadena-Deer Creek school board on Aug. 6 approved Superintendent Lee Westrum, with board chair Dan Lawson, to decide on transitioning between options as case rates change if there is not enough time to have a meeting.

Can other counties impact a school district’s learning option?

Maybe. The districts look specifically at the case rate for their county to determine the school’s learning option. The state recommends that districts with a large percentage of students from various counties select the county with the highest case rate to decide their learning option.

Wadena County Public Health director Cindy Pederson said if there is a “large issue” in Otter Tail, Todd and Becker counties the information would be provided to the school districts in Wadena County. Those counties’ case rates would not be added to Wadena County’s case rate.

Why do elementary students get to stay in school longer?

Since this coronavirus is still relatively new, health experts are trying to understand the virus as it is spreading. Based on current “limited” data of how the coronavirus spreads among children and adolescents, those under 10-years-old are less likely to contract COVID-19 than those 10-17-years-old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Students may spread the virus to household members more than fellow students.

Where can I get information about district transition changes?

The local districts post regular updates on their websites and Facebook pages, and you can also check the Wadena Pioneer Journal.