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Chippewa Falls School District planning to lift mask mandate in November

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Chippewa Falls High School

With a decline in positive COVID-19 cases in the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District over the past few weeks, the District is planning on lifting their mask mandate in November.

Due to a drop in students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and a decline in students who are in isolation or quarantined, the Chippewa Falls school district is looking to eliminate its mask mandate in school buildings in November.

Chippewa Falls Superintendent Jeff Holmes sent a letter home to parents Friday with the update.

“Based upon the current COVID trend and/or trajectory the district and county are experiencing where school-age cases are concerned, I am anticipating that the district can return to ‘level 2’ mask-encouraged, mask-recommended, and/or mask-optional status as of Nov. 1,” Holmes wrote.

“This potential recommendation is subject to change; however the latest data is indicative of promising evidence that we are on the back side of the Delta surge in Chippewa County and school-age infections are significantly declining throughout the county. A formal decision will be determined Oct. 22, 2021.”

However, despite Holmes’ statement, data provided by the Chippewa County Public Health Department shows no decline in cases among children. Children comprised 30.2% of all COVID-19 cases in the past week, nearly identical to a week earlier, when it was 30.4%. Two weeks ago, children ages to 18 made up 33.7% of all infections in the county.

Holmes also announced that the district has gone to a mask-optional system effective immediately for after-school events that only require voluntary attendance; that also will be re-considered on a weekly basis.

On Sept. 27, the Chippewa Falls school district switched to a a voluntary quarantine system, which allows children who were in close contact with a COVID-19-positive person to remain in school if no symptoms develop. With that switch, the district has seen a significant drop in students who are out of school. In his letter Friday, Holmes wrote that there are now 23 students in the district infected with COVID-19, down from 38 a week ago.

Also, 76 students in the district are now in isolation/quarantined. That is a drop of 132 students in isolation/quarantined in the past week: 74 fewer in the high school, 26 fewer in the middle school and 32 fewer between the six elementary schools.

According to Chippewa Falls school district data provided weekly to parents, 193 students were in isolation or quarantine a week ago, 335 two weeks ago and 559 three weeks ago, before the district switched to the voluntary quarantine system.

Public health director Angela Weideman said her office has not endorsed the voluntary quarantine system and strongly urges anyone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to stay home and get tested. The New Auburn school district also has adopted a voluntary quarantine system.

In each of the past two weeks, Chippewa County’s positivity rate among those who took a COVID-19 test has been higher than 44%. Weideman said that points to a high infection rate in the community, and is an indicator more people should be getting tested.

Weideman said she’s concerned that not enough children are getting tested for the virus. She noted the steep drop in COVID-19 cases in the Chippewa Falls school district, but she is fearful the decline in cases isn’t because the virus has left the Chippewa Falls community, but rather from a lack of testing.

A year ago, the county had minimal infections among children.

“The numbers we are seeing for positive cases among children this October in comparison to October 2020 are extremely worrisome,” Weideman said Thursday during her weekly COVID-19 press conference. “Cases for this October are likely to surpass the cases for all of October 2020 but in about half the time.”

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