The Hutchinson School Board briefly discussed its COVID-19 strategy at its Oct. 11 meeting, but no changes to the plan were made at that time.
While board members acknowledged ongoing high case numbers in McLeod County over the past several weeks, Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden said the school had been spared the same spike.
The week before the meeting the county had recorded 209 new cases, the highest number of local cases in a week since rates picked up over the past two months. Last week the county reported 199 new cases.
For the week of Oct. 9-15, Hutchinson Public Schools reported 14 new cases among students and none among staff. Since Aug. 30 it has reported 98 total cases among its 2,859 students and eight cases among its 463 staff.
Jim Lyons, president at Hutchinson Health, said that on Oct. 1, the hospital suspended non-emergent inpatient surgical procedures to conserve resources such as inpatient beds and staff to care for those with COVID-19 and emergent issues such as heart attacks, strokes and other life-threatening illnesses. He said that beds at Hutchinson Health have, at times, been completely full, and routinely have been 90% full. Lately, as many as 50% of the hospital’s beds are filled by people hospitalized with the virus.
“I think we’re in decent shape, but our hospitals maybe not,” Board Member Tiffany Barnard said at the Oct. 4 meeting.
If there is an outbreak in a classroom, VanderHeiden is able to shut it down and change learning models to allow those students to learn digitally or with a model that allows more social distancing.
Contact tracing is undergone for any student or teacher confirmed to have COVID-19. VanderHeiden said parents are typically informed of contact within 24-48 hours, but it can take longer in some circumstances, such as when the contact happened at an event. One parent told the School Board they had not learned of the contact until two weeks after it happened.
The school is required to report to the Minnesota Department of Health if there are multiple cases in one classroom. Another reporting benchmark is if the school sees 5% of a building population diagnosed with COVID-19. The practice is similar to those for the flu.
The department of health also tracks school buildings that have reported five or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in students or staff who were in the building while infectious during a two-week reporting period. Hutchinson High School, Middle School, Park Elementary and West Elementary were all listed as of Oct. 14.
Board Chair JoEllen Kimball said that instead of calling a special meeting, she thought it would be helpful to discuss the COVID situation at each School Board meeting until there was nothing left to discuss. Board Member Erin Knudtson said the goal was to keep kids in school.
“Having a more proactive approach rather than a retroactive approach can be helpful,” she said.
Board Member Keith Kamrath said it seemed deceptive that the topic wasn’t included in the meeting agenda, and instead brought up as part of the district highlights. He suspected more people would have been present to make comments during the meeting if the subject was listed on the agenda.
VanderHeiden said there was no intentional deception, and that including the topic with district highlights was meant to be similar to bringing up confirmed COVID-19 numbers at a previous meeting.
“I think we need to list this as a separate agenda item going forward,” Kamrath said.