Two Northland schools were removed on Thursday from the Minnesota Department of Health's outbreak list: West Rapids Elementary in Grand Rapids and Cherry School secondary students in Iron Junction.

A school building is put on the list if it reports five or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in students or staff who were in a building while infectious during a two-week reporting period. The building is removed after 28 days of no new positive tests.

As of Thursday, no new school buildings were added to the list and 36 were removed for a total of 100.

Northland schools still on the list include:

  • Winterquist Elementary School in Esko, added Nov. 19.

  • Grand Rapids Senior High School, added Oct. 8.

  • Robert J. Elkington Middle School in Grand Rapids, added Dec. 3.

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From Jan. 3-9, there were 294 more positive COVID-19 cases in schools statewide, with 175 new cases among staff and 119 new cases among students. Statewide, 31 more school buildings reported at least one new case of COVID-19.

From Dec. 27 through Jan. 9, 213 school buildings reported one confirmed case of COVID-19, 40 reported two to four confirmed cases and one reported more than five.

Local COVID-19 numbers

Local COVID-19 numbers have been steadily declining since the spike in November and there has yet to be a post-Christmas or New Year's Eve surge in the Northland. The low numbers are getting students and educators excited about the possibility of bringing middle and high school students back to some form of in-person learning.

“With vaccines on the way and local numbers going down, we definitely have a lot of hope,” Duluth Public Schools Superintendent John Magas said in a news release. “We don’t want another spike, however. For our schools and our communities, we encourage everyone to continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.”

Superior Public Schools Superintendent Amy Starzecki and Proctor Public Schools Superintendent John Engelking joined Magas in expressing their hope for the second half of the school year.

"As a community, we must all practice essential COVID-19 safety procedures,” Starzecki said. “Thank you to everyone for wearing facial coverings and social distancing. Together, we can keep our staff and students safe."

In a series of video messages and posters, members of all three school districts and others are encouraging community members to stay vigilant and continue to follow COVID-19 guidelines to keep numbers low.

"With vaccines on the horizon and infection rates in a downward trend, I'm optimistic that we can soon see our schools return to normalcy," Engelking said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-verified 14-day case rates per 10,000 residents around the Northland for Dec. 20 through Jan. 2 were:

  • 23.37 in Aitkin County.

  • 34.33 in Carlton County.

  • 11.3 in Cook County.

  • 19.91 in Itasca County.

  • 35.01 in Lake County.

  • 42.23 in St. Louis County.

  • 59 in the Duluth area.

  • 29.6 in Central/Southern St. Louis County.

  • 21.7 in Northern St. Louis County.

The 14-day case rates are used as guidance for school districts when choosing the right learning model for middle and high school students. These numbers must be below 30 for districts to start considering bringing middle and high school students back for hybrid learning. Elementary students are allowed to return to in-person learning five days a week starting Jan. 18 regardless of these numbers.

According to Essentia Health’s COVID-19 Regional Projections dashboard, the county 14-day case rates per 10,000 residents as of Jan. 13 were:

  • 25.8 in Aitkin County.

  • 49.7 in Carlton County.

  • 14.8 in Cook County.

  • 24.2 in Itasca County.

  • 65.7 in Lake County.

  • 47.7 in St. Louis County.