Owatonna Public School District

Owatonna Public Schools District Office (File photo/southernminn.com)

COVID-19 and the Influenza virus have been running rampant across the Owatonna Public School District.

On Tuesday, it was decided that a mask mandate would be put into effect in all Owatonna schools beginning Wednesday, Jan. 12, and ending Wednesday, Jan. 26.

Up until this point, masking in all schools has been recommended, but not required, and social distancing guidelines have been in place where possible.

According to Superintendent Jeff Elstad, in the last week, schools have seen a surge of influenza and positive COVID-19 cases. Nearly 10% of students and staff across the district are out with either illness, and a confirmed 110 students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. He said numbers have nearly quadrupled in the last couple of days.

“We are trying our best to avoid distance learning and closing our schools,” Elstad said. “We will monitor things on a daily basis for the next two weeks and see where we can go from there.”

The mitigation protocol for the districts Safe Learning Plan states in the event the positivity rate for COVID-19 in any one of the schools reaches 5%, masks will be required for all students and staff for a period of 14 days.

If positive cases are still being reported in that time frame, a longer masking period may be required.

If staff or students are experiencing any symptoms associated with influenza or COVID-19 including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, headache, muscle paint and more, they are encouraged to get tested. At-home saliva test kits are available through the school district.

In light of the staff and substitute teacher shortages seen not only in the Owatonna School District, but across the state and nation as well, administrators and teachers alike are scrambling to keep doors open for students.

All things considered, Elstad said the district is pretty well staffed. Not nearly as well as before the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, but everyone with a teaching license is stepping in where needed. Elstad is among many administrators who have had to step up and fill in to teach students in various grade levels, most recently helping in a middle school classroom.

“We are all trying to do what it takes to make things work as smoothly as possible,” Elstad said. “At this point it’s all hands on deck.”

Additional information about the districts resources and responses related to COVID-19 can be found on the website at isd761.org/district-services/health-services/covid-19

Reach Reporter Emily Kahnke at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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