Hermantown Community Schools had three elementary students test positive for COVID-19. Superintendent Wayne Whitwam said he learned of the positive cases Saturday night.

Whitwam told the News Tribune the three students come from three households and were in three different classes. He said the students, their hybrid group and one teacher were told Sunday they would be required to switch to distance learning for a minimum of 14 days.

Whitwam said the teacher will continue to teach the class from home with the help of a substitute teacher in the classroom for the students who do not have to quarantine.

Currently, Hermantown schools are in hybrid mode, meaning students are split into two groups that attend in person either Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday. Everyone in the district does distance learning on Mondays, which Whitwam said is a blessing as it gives the district time to work on contact tracing.

Whitwam said the contact tracing is being done by the school nurse, who was hoping to have a final number by the end of the day Monday of students, staff and bus drivers who must quarantine for 14 days. As of Monday afternoon, Whitwam said they still didn’t know how many students and staff this would affect.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Whitwam said if a student in a kindergarten or first grade class tests positive, the teacher and that half of the class automatically must quarantine for 14 days. If a student in a second grade or higher class tests positive, whether the teacher and the rest of the class has to quarantine depends on how long those people were around the student with a positive case and/or if they came within 6 feet of that student.

Another scenario Whitwam said the district has to take into consideration is how long these students were on the bus. Anyone who was on the bus for at least 30 minutes with the student who had a positive COVID-19 test would have to quarantine for 14 days, including the bus driver.

“For example, anyone who rode the bus to school for 15 minutes and then home for 15 minutes would have to quarantine,” Whitwam said. “But if you rode the bus for a combined 20 minutes and weren’t within 6 feet of that person, then you wouldn’t have to quarantine. But we have to look at every individual on that bus route.”

Whitwam said the elementary school has assigned seating not only in class, but also in the cafeteria for lunch, so they also are collecting all the seating charts involved to determine who might need to quarantine.

“So we’re not quite sure yet what the total number of people affected by this is, we’ll have that by the end of the day, but I suspect there will be quite a few students before we’re done,” Whitwam said.

Then that number may decrease after the nurse has made contact with parents, Whitwam said, adding that after talking to the parents they may find out the student didn’t ride the bus home, for example.

“Then at that point, we’ll have to recalculate,” he said.

If Hermantown Elementary School gets two more positive cases, where it was determined a student or staff member was infectious while in the building, this week, the state will require the entire building to move to distance learning for 14 days. This is a new requirement by the state, which has begun publicly listing school buildings with five or more COVID-19 cases and updating the list on a weekly basis.

Whitwam said if that doesn’t happen, the district might end up distance learning by the end of the month if local COVID-19 cases continue increasing. The latest release 14-day case rate for schools, Sept. 6-19, shows Duluth area schools at 22.47 cases per 10,000 residents. If that number hits 30 or more, the district will be forced to switch to distance learning for all secondary students. If that number climbs to 50 for more all students would be required to move to distance learning.

Whitwam said he would be sending a letter out to staff and parents letting them know they should prepare for their students switching to distance learning.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, statewide since the start of the school year and as of Sept. 26, 448 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade staff members and 416 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and were in a school building while infectious.

As of Sept. 26, 509 school buildings have reported at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 since the start of the school year. In the last two reported weeks, Sept. 13-26, 242 buildings had at least one confirmed case, 77 buildings had two to four confirmed cases and seven school buildings have had five or more confirmed cases.

These statewide numbers include public, non-public and tribal schools.