Hutchinson secondary students returned to full in-person learning Tuesday following a day off Monday to give educators a chance to prepare for the change.

High school and middle school students have spent most of the 2020 school year so far in a hybrid learning model, which has had half the student body learning digitally from home while half attend class in person every other day.

An email announcing the change was sent to families Thursday, the same day the Minnesota Department of Health released the latest 14-day COVID-19 case rates, which showed McLeod County had a rate of 12.56 cases per 10,000 residents from Sept. 27 to Oct. 10.

“We will continue to closely monitor the county level COVID-19 case rates and the implementation of our safety plan,” Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden wrote in the email. “The vast majority of safeguards used in the hybrid learning model will remain as we transition to in-person learning.”

The school hopes the transition will be long term, but that could change if local infection rates increase once more. VanderHeiden stressed that it is critical for parents to screen their children and support health measures such as safe distancing, wearing masks and hand washing.

Last week, the McLeod County Board received an update on the broader picture across the county. Health and Human Services Director Berit Spors reported that the county had seen an increase of 58 confirmed COVID-19 cases in a two-week period ending Oct. 19. At the end of the day Oct. 19, the county had 570 confirmed cases, up from 512 two weeks earlier. Spors said the trend was “very concerning.” By Oct. 26, confirmed cases climbed to 602, including four deaths.

She noted that in the past month, there had been 117 new positive cases, and that 62 percent didn’t know where they had been exposed.

“That is considered community spread when the cases occur with no known exposure,” Spors said.

The county’s case tracing team has noted there are businesses in the county with three or more active cases. Two long-term care facilities have reported exposures. However, schools have no active cases.

“They are doing a nice job of reaching out and getting advice, and we are supporting them,” Spors said.

Board Member Rich Pohlmeier asked if the county had seen any repeat cases.

“I don’t think we’ve had any repeat cases,” Spors said. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t. Because we have seen that across the country, that people have become reinfected. I would assume if that starts to happen across the state that we would start tracking that number as well.”