COVID-19 mitigation efforts outlined in the Eden Prairie Schools’ Safe Learning Plan will remain unchanged for now, Superintendent Josh Swanson told the school board at its Oct. 25 meeting.
The Safe Learning Plan requires students from Pre-K through 6th grade to wear face coverings indoors. Teachers are required to wear face coverings when they cannot maintain at least six feet of social distancing — unless they are fully vaccinated and removing a face covering “supports educational outcomes.”
It recommends that all other staff and students wear masks indoors, but it is not required.
The plan also says that “the best way to prevent COVID-19 is with one of the safe and effective vaccines” available. The district does not have a vaccine mandate for students or staff, but Swanson reported that partial or complete vaccination rates for individuals 12 to 18 years of age in Eden Prairie is in the upper 70% range.
Additionally, the district encourages parents to keep students home when they exhibit any symptoms, and quarantining is implemented in certain circumstances.
Most cases in lower grades
Swanson acknowledged that the district was experiencing sporadic COVID-19 cases, particularly in the district’s youngest students in Pre-K through 5th grade. Those students are not yet eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Positive cases have been more widespread in those grade levels resulting in more quarantines, Swanson said.
Swanson said that very few positive cases and quarantines were occurring in grades 6-12. Sixteen cases and 14 quarantines occurred in a recent two-week period in grades 6-8. Three cases and seven quarantines occurred in grades 9-12.
But 52 cases and 102 quarantines occurred in Pre-K through 5th grade in the same time period.
Unvaccinated 6th grade students account for most cases at Central Middle School (CMS), Swanson said. Some breakthrough cases have been seen at Eden Prairie High School, but “activities have not been a significant part of our experience this year,” he reported.
Many of the cases have been traced to family exposures, as opposed to in-school transmission, he said.
To address the CMS situation, Swanson said the school had realigned schedules to allow for two 6th grade lunch periods. Previously, all of those unvaccinated students were in the cafeteria at the same time. The change enables students to spread out more, allowing for increased social distancing, he said.
The schedule change also affected students in grades 7 and 8, resulting in the shifting of classroom spaces and the use of some gymnasium space, he said.
Preparing for more vaccinations
On Tuesday, Oct. 26, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel recommended that the Pfizer vaccine be made available to children ages 5 to 11. The FDA must approve that recommendation and forward it to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for final approval.
Swanson told the board that the district is preparing to assist families with students ages 5 to 11 who would become eligible for the Pfizer vaccine if the CDC gives its final approval.
The district is prepared to provide space in its buildings to assist Hennepin County with vaccination efforts, he said.
The district anticipates “widespread availability of the 5-11 Pfizer vaccine for families who want to make that choice,” according to Swanson’s presentation to the board.
Incident Command Team
Swanson emphasized his reliance on the district’s Incident Command Team to review COVID-19 data, as well as trends in Hennepin County and Eden Prairie, to help him make decisions on mitigation efforts.
The command team sees “promising trends” in school-level data but recognizes that COVID-19 is still present in the community, Swanson reported.
The team also cited community transmission as the primary source of school infections, especially at the secondary level. They also said that most of the spread of COVID-19 appears to be in unvaccinated populations.
The command team unanimously supported maintaining the district’s current policies and practices “since they are working” while keeping an eye on relevant data.
Most recent Hennepin County data reported the City of Eden Prairie’s case rate at 44.6 per 10,000 residents over the most recent two-week period.
The school district’s COVID-19 dashboard reported 52 positive cases in Pre-K through 5th grade, 19 cases in grades 6-12, and six cases in staff in the two weeks ending Oct. 22
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently reported five district schools on its list of school facilities reporting five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases in students or staff over a two-week reporting period.
The schools are CMS, Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion, Eden Lake Elementary, Oak Point Elementary, and Prairie View Elementary.
More than 500 schools throughout Minnesota are on the MDH list. Schools will be removed from the list once they have not reported a new case for 28 days, according to the MDH website.