Huge Surge of COVID Cases Requires Changes at Rochester Public Schools
I'm not sure if I should panic and start loading up on canned goods right now or just brush this off. According to an e-mail sent to families of Rochester Public Schools students in Rochester, Minnesota, new changes are taking place starting Tuesday, January 11th, due to a significant number of COVID cases happening in our schools. And when I say "changes", that really means they are temporarily done doing contact tracing in the schools.
Rochester Public Schools Temporarily Suspends Contract Tracing for COVID Cases in Schools
Below is the e-mail that families received on Monday, January 10th:
Dear RPS Families:
Our recent district-wide COVID data shows a rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the Omicron variant. Based upon guidance from local, state, and national experts, we can expect to see the number of positive cases significantly increase in the coming weeks. The good news is that the surge of Omicron is likely to subside in the next three to four weeks, according to our local health experts.
Throughout the current school year, whenever a student or staff member in one of our schools or other facilities has tested positive for COVID, we have sought to identify all other people who have spent more than 15 minutes within three feet of that individual. We (and many other organizations) have called those people “close contacts”, and we have required them to quarantine outside school if they were unvaccinated as suggested by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and other experts. Other school districts in Minnesota never adopted the practice of contact tracing and quarantining people who were in close contact with positive cases, and in recent weeks as Omicron has spread a number of school districts have discontinued that practice.
Unfortunately, Rochester Public Schools is also no longer able to effectively conduct contact tracing and quarantining students and staff who were near a positive case of COVID but who have not themselves tested positive for COVID and have not shown any of the symptoms of COVID. Given the current spread of COVID within our schools and community due to the Omicron variant, the process of contact tracing and quarantining students is diverting staff time and resources from efforts to identify and isolate actual positive cases of COVID and to manage COVID testing and other critical mitigation strategies.
We are confident that discontinuing contact tracing and quarantining will provide staff with the capacity to monitor actual cases of COVID much more effectively. In the days ahead, we will use the improved actual counts of COVID that this change will make possible to make decisions about moving to distance learning at the classroom, grade, and potentially the district-wide levels.
Therefore, in order for RPS to manage the significant amount of positive cases, we are temporarily adjusting our mitigation strategies. Beginning Tuesday, January 11, 2022, we will:
- Discontinue contact tracing and quarantine due to staffing inability to keep up with the significant volume of cases
- Continue to request that families and staff to report positive cases to their schools. We will ask the positive individuals to isolate for ten days
This change is temporary for the next two weeks as we work through the current surge in positive cases. During this period, we will also delay implementation of our Test to Stay strategy, which is intended to allow unvaccinated students who are close contacts to remain in school as long as they do not test positive for COVID and do not show symptoms of COVID. We ask for your help to stay home when sick, report positive tests to your school, and continue to wash hands frequently and wear your mask while in our schools or office buildings.
According to our Safe and Open Learning Plan, if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they must continue to isolate for 10 days from onset of symptoms or test date if asymptomatic. In the days ahead, we will closely review anticipated guidance for schools from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), and informed by that information on Tuesday, January 18, the School Board will receive a district-wide update on COVID.
Thank you for your patience as we work through this challenging situation.
Check out these Google reviews of some of our local schools in Southeast Minnesota
I think we could all use a laugh right now and take our minds off this COVID talk. If you need a smile, I know you'll find when you read through the Google reviews that some students left about some of our area schools.