Eden Prairie Schools’ next move in its ongoing efforts to mitigate the rapidly spreading COVID-19 omicron variant in the district could be made known in the next couple of days.
At the Jan. 24 School Board meeting, Supt. Josh Swanson said the incident command team would meet later this week to review, among other things, the district’s temporary face-covering policy.
The face-covering requirement expires on Jan. 27, the last day of the first semester. It was instituted on Dec. 27 for all students and staff after a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Without any action, face coverings will be required only for pre-K through 6th-grade students and strongly recommended for students in grades 7-12 beginning on Monday, Jan. 31, the first day of the second semester.
“Honestly, omicron has changed our landscape,” Swanson said in his monthly COVID report to the board. “Our staff is working incredibly hard with reports coming in from families to contact trace everything and do everything properly and keep our schools open for learning.”
Swanson said the community’s COVID-19 transmission and case rates are very high, much more so than last month.
“We’re still seeing a really active transmit and I want to make sure when we do make a (policy) shift, whatever those shifts are (will) allow us to stay in person and be successful,” he said.
Swanson said a “silver lining” in the form of real-time data suggests that the local omicron cases are peaking or have peaked in the community.
He told the board he is “very hopeful” that the district will be in a much better place in transmission and case rates when he presents his COVID-19 update next month.
“I think we might have weathered what this omicron wave might look like but it’s not done yet so we can’t really slow down and rest yet here,” he said. “We got a few more weeks where we’re going to see some high case rates and see transmissions actively happen.”
Swanson said the district would continue to navigate the pandemic “thoughtfully,” following a balanced approach to keep students learning in person.
“None of us want this pandemic,” he said. “We’re all ready to be done with it. But it’s not quite done with us yet.”
A recent rise in COVID-19 cases because of the omicron variant made Swanson upsize a case rate graph he shared with the School Board. Instead of topping off at 200, the case rate graph now goes to 350.
The latest official 14-day numbers, ending on Jan. 10, show case rates in Eden Prairie at 201.6 per 10,000 residents. Before the omicron surge, the highest COVID-19 case rate seen on the graph was 97 per 10,000 residents back in November 2020.
“There’s a reason I have that scaled out to 350,” he said. “That’s foreshadowing. Because as our lagging data catches up with us you’re going to see that lagging data continue to go up for a little bit of time.”
Community data is about 10 days behind district data. As of Jan. 21, the number of 14-day COVID-19 cases is 321 for pre-K-5 students, 288 for 6-12 students, and 87 staff.
This isn’t only impacting students but also district staff.
“We saw very large numbers of positive cases coming out of winter break, so kids weren’t even back in school and this had hit and it had direct impact on winter break on our families,” he said. “So, that first week coming out of winter break, we were kind of a recording center for all the different cases that had happened out in our community.”
Without high vaccination rates among staff and students and recently updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines that shortened isolation and quarantine times, Swanson said, “we might have had a different situation about being able to stay in person.”
There has been lots of transmission in the community. But, the district is seeing pretty quick recovery times for the vaccinated.
That’s been essential for keeping schools staffed.
“One of the reasons we’ve been able to stay open is that we have a really high vaccination rates in our staff,” he said. “Our staff is able to return to work, many of them, pretty quickly after they’ve had COVID. That has been our biggest challenge, making sure that we remain staffed over the last couple weeks.”
Swanson also noted that a vaccination clinic is scheduled for Feb. 9 (click on our calendar item here) at Eden Prairie High School. The district still has KN95 face coverings available for staff or students.
To view the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, click here.