PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Department of Health officials said Thursday they won’t be establishing any coronavirus infection threshold guidelines for school districts to transition from in-person learning to hybrid models to virtual learning.
Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said a threshold guideline would not fit individual districts. The DOH is working closely with individual school districts and the South Dakota Department of Education as schools develop their fall back-to-school plans, Malsam-Rysdon said.
“(It’s too) difficult to have a hard and fast rule in place that will be very effective,” Malsam-Rysdon said.
“I will encourage them (schools) not to set thresholds because then they will be calling off school all the time,” Gov. Kristi Noem said during a July 28 news conference.
Malsam-Rysdon and Dr. Josh Clayton said the DOH plans to update its website with additional COVID-19 information that can help school districts.
Clayton said one example is the data on 100 cases per 100,000 population or more, which is an indicator that there is a lot of additional transmission within the community.
On the same day South Dakota DOH officials said the state wouldn’t be providing any case thresholds on back-to-school plans, the Iowa Department of Health released threshold guidelines for state school districts.
A school district cannot decide to temporarily close school and use remote learning unless it’s approved by the Iowa DOH. Also, percentage positive rates for COVID-19 must be above 15% before such a request can be made.
Percentage positive is the number of positive COVID-19 cases as a percentage of all COVID-19 tests.
All percentage positive rates used in the Iowa DOH recommendations must be over a 14-day period.
When percentage positive rates reach 15% to 20% in Iowa and absenteeism is 10% with stable health care resources, schools can request temporary closure. Other actions will also be recommended including canceling school events.
If the percentage positive rate is greater than 20% and health care resources are unstable, the DOH and the district should work together on a plan and it could include closing school.
According to the Iowa DOH, if the county’s percentage positive rate is 0% to 5%, schools should use in-person learning. Six-feet of social distancing is recommended. So is wearing face coverings when it can be done safely and correctly.
If a county’s percentage positive rate is 6% to 14%, Iowa officials say in-person learning is still appropriate but then, schools should limit inter-school contact, limit social gatherings, make sure student and staff groups or cohorts are static and contact between groups or cohorts is limited as well as following recommendations for 0% to 5% rates.
Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Walz also released a back to school plan for the state’s schools. He emphasized local decision making with the guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health. There are plans to prioritize keeping younger students in the classroom.
Recommendations will be based in part on the COVID-19 cases in the county. If a county has zero to nine cases of the virus per 10,000 residents, then the district could opt to implement an in-person model. As the number of cases rise, schools can change the model to hybrid and distance-learning.
Clayton and Malsam-Rysdon were asked during Thursday’s news briefing if they were sending their children back to in person school.
Clayton said he and his wife have decided to send their two elementary-age school children back to school and likely with masks.
Malsam-Rysdon said her son would be returning to the University of South Dakota and he would comply with the state Board of Regents’ requirement to wear masks in campus public buildings.
The number of cases in individuals under 20 has risen significantly since July 1 in the state.
As of July 27, the state had 1,003 COVID-19 cases in individuals under 20, Clayton said.
Of those, 322 were in the 0-9 age range and 737 in the 10-19 age range, Clayton said.
More than 60% of the positive cases showed symptoms, Clayton said.
Only 24 individuals with COVID-19 in the 0-19 age range needed hospitalization, Clayton said. Of those, 46% had chronic conditions such as lung, heart and kidney disease or diabetes, suppressed immune systems or neurological conditions, or were a current or former smoker.
The largest proportion of those under 20 who needed hospitalization were current or former smokers, Clayton said.
Camp Judson, a religious-based camp in Keystone for youth had a recent outbreak of COVID-19. Clayton said 75% of the 61 cases were teenagers. The ages of the individuals who contracted COVID-19 were from 5 to 44, Clayton said.