The numbers of positive adult COVID-19 cases and close contacts in the Grand Forks school system are spiraling downward as the school year gets underway, Superintendent Terry Brenner told the School Board at its regular meeting Monday, Sept. 14.

After the end of the first two weeks of school, on Sept. 11, positive adult COVID cases dropped from 12 to three, and close contacts fell from 43 to 10, said Brenner.

“Those numbers are going in the right direction,” he said.

Brenner attributed the decrease to students and staff adhering to public health protocols -- social distancing, wearing face masks, and rigorous sanitizing of desks, chairs, table tops and other frequently touched items.

After discussions with other superintendents across the state, he noted that Grand Forks is the only large school district with face-to-face learning for students in grades K-8, and his colleagues “are wondering how we pulled it out,” he said.

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For the most part, the district’s plan for reopening schools “has worked out pretty well (and) people are choosing to leave (masks) on,” even in situations where they’re not absolutely necessary, Brenner said.

Mask-wearing is not the issue that some administrators had worried it would be, he and other school administrators said.

But “COVID is going to come with extraordinary expense,” Brenner said. “It will be in the $3.5 to $4 million range.”

In a related update, Melissa Buchhop, Grand Forks Education Association president, said the GFEA sent a survey to gauge members’ comfort level as they returned to face-to-face learning in the classroom. The survey asked members to rank their comfort level from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning “not safe” and 10 meaning “very safe.”

Five percent ranked their comfort level at 1 or 2; 8% at 3 or 4; 14% at 5 or 6; 43% at 7 or 8; and 30% at 9 or 10, “so about 73% are feeling pretty safe in schools,” Buchhop said.

About half of the association’s roughly 500 members responded to the survey, she said.

The survey, sent at the end of the first week of school, was open for GFEA members to fill out for about seven to 10 days.