Three Northland schools were added to the Minnesota Department of Health's outbreak list Thursday and one was removed.

A school building is put on the list if it reports five or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in students or staff who were in a building while infectious during a two-week reporting period. The building is removed after 28 days of no new positive tests.

The three schools added to the list Thursday were Hibbing High School, Mesabi East School in Aurora, and St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Grand Rapids. Merritt Elementary School in Mountain Iron, added Feb. 4, as removed from the list Thursday.

These Northland schools still remain on the outbreak list as of Thursday:

  • Grand Rapids High School, added Oct. 8.

  • Hermantown High School, added Feb. 11.

  • Lowell Elementary School, in Duluth, added March 11.

  • Robert J. Elkington Middle School, in Grand Rapids, added March 11.

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Mesabi East School had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in youths age 5-19 in the first two weeks of March, according to a letter sent Monday from St. Louis County Public Health Director Amy Westbrook to Mesabi East parents.

The letter encouraged parents to get their students tested regularly. To help, St. Louis County Public Health is starting a three-week pilot program that will give rural schools and their students access to COVID-19 testing. Mesabi East would be included.

Aubrie Hoover, the St. Louis County Public Health school liaison, said they are working to identify schools in the county that are 60 miles or more from a community testing site.

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The program would provide free saliva tests to participating schools so when a student is sent home due to COVID-19-like symptoms, parents will have an option to let the school nurse conduct a saliva test.

“We just wanted to help from a local public health standpoint and take away that barrier for families that maybe don't have transportation to get even to a clinic that is 20 minutes away, within hours of operation because maybe there's only one car at home,” Hoover said.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends students who are attending in-person classes get tested at least once every two weeks. Even though testing is free for all Minnesotans, access can be difficult for those who live in rural areas, which is why the pilot program is being created.

Hoover said another option is free mail-in saliva tests from Vault Health, the company that provides the saliva tests to community testing sites. Tests can be ordered at learn.vaulthealth.com/state-of-minnesota. The test will be shipped overnight and will include a prepaid UPS package to mail it back.

Hoover said the county has seen many COVID-19 cases linked to youth sports, which is why public health is asking students who play sports or are in extracurricular activities where social distancing is not possible to be tested more often. The current recommendation is for athletes to be tested weekly and three days before any game.

In the rural areas of St. Louis County, Hoover said the turnaround on test results has been about 48-72 hours.

As of Thursday, 25 new school buildings were added to the state outbreak list and 10 were removed for a total of 111 buildings remaining on the list.

From March 7-13, there were 674 more positive COVID-19 cases in schools statewide, with 149 new cases among staff and 525 new cases among students. The state reported four more staff members were hospitalized with one spending time in the ICU and one staff member dying due to COVID-19. Only two students were hospitalized last week.

Local COVID-19 numbers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-verified 14-day case rates per 10,000 residents around the Northland for Feb. 21 through March 6 were:

  • 8.21 in Aitkin County.

  • 7.03 in Carlton County.

  • 1.88 in Cook County.

  • 17.7 in Itasca County.

  • 17.03 in Lake County.

  • 14.39 in St. Louis County.

  • 12.9 in the Duluth area.

  • 18.8 in Central/Southern St. Louis County.

  • 8.1 in Northern St. Louis County.

The 14-day case rates are used as guidance for school districts when choosing the right learning model for middle and high school students. Elementary students are allowed to return to in-person learning five days a week starting Jan. 18, regardless of these numbers.

According to Essentia Health’s COVID-19 Regional Projections dashboard, the county 14-day case rates per 10,000 residents as of Wednesday were:

  • 5.66 in Aitkin County.

  • 9.77 in Carlton County.

  • 24.11 in Cook County.

  • 24.39 in Itasca County.

  • 9.38 in Lake County.

  • 21.18 in St. Louis County.

Cases in St. Louis County youth have increased slightly from March 12-18. Those age 0-4 had three new cases, age 5-9 had nine new cases and age 10-14 had 11 new cases in the past week. Those age 15-19 had 17 new cases.

Statewide, cases by age over the past week included: age 0-4, 188; age 5-9, 350; age 10-14, 520; and age 15-19, 726.