East Grand Forks School District officials are concerned about a recent spike in COVID-19 cases within the district, according to Superintendent Mike Kolness.

The jump in case numbers comes after a relatively quiet period following students' transition back to full-time in-person learning earlier this year. Between Feb. 24 and March 26, three new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the district. In the past two weeks, 12 students have tested positive for the virus, including three on Monday, April 12.

Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese said the increase can be at least partly attributed to the rise in variants of the virus, particularly the B.1.1.7. variant, which is now the dominant strain of the virus in Minnesota.

The variants are more contagious than the strain of the virus that tore through the Greater Grand Forks community last fall, but the precautions to protect each other are the same, Reese said: maintain a safe social distance, practice good hand hygiene, wear a face mask and stay home when you're sick.

Vaccines also have been shown to be highly effective in protecting against the variants, Reese said. This can be seen in East Grand Forks Public Schools data: when comparing the ratio of students to staff who tested positive in November, and the ratio of students to staff who tested positive more recently – now that a majority of staff members have been vaccinated – Reese said there is a clear difference.

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"We can, from a public health perspective, attribute that reduction in the number of staff having COVID now to the higher number of staff across the state that did receive the vaccinations," Reese said. "So we feel like that's a huge win."

In other board-related news:

  • District enrollment has decreased by 33 students since January. Kolness said that during that time, the district has seen families begin to move into the district as well as out of it. He still expects that the current revised budget is slightly too high based on current enrollment numbers, and will likely have to be adjusted.
  • Five labor groups and a handful of individual staff members are up for contract negotiations within the district, Kolness said. Many of those labor groups and individuals decided last year to negotiate a one-year contract due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, and are now up for negotiations again.