On Friday, March 5, the Minnesota Department of Health put out a press release warning of an outbreak of a B117 variant of the COVID-19 virus centered in Carver County.
By Saturday morning Eastern Carver County Schools' leadership team was meeting, reacting to the news.
That release described at least 68 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to participants in both school-sponsored and club sports activities, including hockey, wrestling, basketball, alpine skiing and other sports. In addition, health officials have seen increases in cases in Carver County gyms and fitness centers, with many of the cases linked to the sports-related cases.
From Feb. 24 to March 4, there was a 62% increase in cases in Carver County, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
MDH's recommendation was a two-week pause from all organized youth and high schools. Eastern Carver County Schools met them halfway.
"With the health and safety of our students in mind and the priority to preserve in-person learning, the district will implement the following over the two-week period of March 8-21," the District release said.
- All non-varsity winter sports will pause practice and games (varsity teams will continue)
- Additional mitigation measures and spectator restrictions will be in place for varsity teams
- All off-season sports practices and workouts will be paused
- All in-person extracurriculars will be paused
- All youth community education classes will be paused; participants will receive information from Community Education in the coming days
- District facilities will be closed to rental groups during the two-week pause
The news brought relief to some Chaska and Chanhassen high school athletes including a state-qualifying Hawks Dance Team. Some athletes wondered, like with football and volleyball in November, if an abrupt end was coming to their winter sports.
The District 112 data dashboard lists 37 and 34 new cases for the weeks of Feb. 18-24 and Feb. 25-March 3. Only the November 5-11 timeframe, with 55 new cases among students and staff, was higher.
"This is why we do exhaustive contact tracing. For situations such as this. We're really lucky to have a great school nurse team that has become really pros on this," Celi Haga, director of communications for ECCS, said on Tuesday. "What people need to know is why we pivoted in November, and that was because of staffing challenges. We couldn't staff our buildings. We hope as staff continue to receive vaccinations that the impact of quarantines will lessen. It's really a race against time."
Haga said Carver County has been "wonderful" to work with in partnering to make sure school staff receive vaccines in a timely manner. Many have received at least the first dose with a second in the coming weeks.
"We hope as our staff get vaccinated, we're able keep our learning models intact, and we're able to keep them safe in our schools," Haga said.
As of March 4, current quarantines were 384 students (four percent of district) and 30 staff members (two percent of district). In November, at the height of new cases, ECCS reported 620 students and 90 staff in quarantine.
Haga said superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams looks at the data thoroughly every day. If a school reaches five percent in quarantine, a pivot in learning model will occur for that building.
In recent weeks, three Eastern Carver County Schools sports programs -- Chaska/Chanhassen wrestling, Chanhassen boys basketball and Chaska girls basketball -- have been put in quarantine to address COVID concerns.
"MDH’s press release calls for a two-week pause for all Carver County school and youth sports starting Monday, March 8, and also includes additional measures, including keeping secondary students in a hybrid model. Our district leadership has been working over the weekend to go through these recommendations and determine next steps, the schools' release said.
Haga said any change in plans for the March 22 date of a return to four days a week in-person learning for grades 6-12 will be announced in coming days.
"As the district is currently in a hybrid model for our secondary students, that will not change, nor will our in-person model for our elementary students," the statement said.
District 112 encourages families and students to be tested, with new opportunities March 11-13 and 18-20 at a pop-up site at Chan Rec Center.
FOUR SCHOOLS MAKE MOVE
In addition to Chaska and Chanhassen high schools, Waconia High School and private secondary high school Holy Family Catholic have adjusted sports and extra-curricular activities this week.
The Victoria school cancelled boys basketball contests for March 5 and March 8. A boys hockey game was also called off for March 6.
The school, in a release to families, said varsity practices and contests wouldn't begin until Tuesday, March 9. All JV and lower levels are suspended for the final week of the regular season.
All Fire athletes must get tested for COVID by Sunday, March 7. Varsity activities "may be paused if the circumstances and resulting data require," the school's release said.
Waconia, which has spring break this week, will only have teams cleared of COVID available to play.
“We all need to keep working together to combat this pandemic, and we support the health department’s recommendations,” said Dr. Richard Scott, Carver County director of public health. “We will continue supporting our schools and businesses in following this new guidance to protect everyone in our communities.”