This fall, Minnesota saw a surge in COVID-19 cases as the delta variant spread and waning immunity from vaccinations led to more breakthrough infections.
As Hastings schools prepared to enter their third school year in the pandemic, school leaders had to make decisions on how to protect students and staff amid the state’s third COVID-19 surge.
Before the school year started, the Hastings School Board voted to require masks in schools based on levels of community spread of COVID-19.
For the 2021-2022 school year, mask requirements of students, staff and visitors are determined based on a low to high scale of COVID-19 cases in the area using a 14-day average of local case numbers per 10,000 people.
The leveled plan was created to protect the schools’ unvaccinated population and families that students were going home to.
According to the plan, each level remains in place a minimum of two weeks and until cases fall below a level, however, levels may increase on a shorter basis if case counts increase substantially within those two weeks.
Regardless of level, if a school reaches a five percent or higher positivity rate, all individuals will be required to wear a mask until the school’s rate drops to three percent or lower for five consecutive days, according to the plan.
The school year began at the “substantial” level determined by the board where all students, staff and visitors at Tilden, the elementary schools and middle school were required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
As COVID-19 cases in the state continued to surge into October, the area’s positivity rate reached over 50 cases per 10,000, which required all schools to require masks, as laid out in the district’s Return to In-Person Learning Plan.
Starting on Oct. 11, the Hastings High School joined the rest of the ISD 200 schools in requiring masks of students, staff and visitors.
But as cases continued to rise towards the end of the year and staff were exposed to the virus, some classes were left short-staffed on some days.
A message from Superintendent Bob McDowell on Nov. 14 said when infected staff are out for extended periods of time and the schools are not able to cover all of the needed classes throughout the day with substitute teachers, it could push schools to move to distance learning.
The next week, McAuliffe Elementary moved to distance learning due to an increase of COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
McAuliffe moved to distance learning from Nov. 23, through Dec. 5.
According to the weekly Raider Update, at the time Hastings elementary schools had 25 student COVID-19 infections and five staff infections, however, the numbers are not broken down by school.
But as McAuliffe Elementary returned to in-person learning at the beginning of December, all Hastings Public Schools were able to finish out 2021 with in-person learning.