COVID-19 numbers steady, declining at local schools

More cleaning measures on tap in prep for second half of school year

FSA coronavirus microscope7
This image shows a microscopic view of the COVID-19 virus. Submitted

The number of COVID-19 infections at the three local Mitchell schools has remained steady or declined substantially in the past month, according to the latest statistics released by the schools.

Cases have remained steady at the Mitchell School District, where 21 active cases were reported in mid-November. The latest statistics, released Friday, indicate a total of 24 active cases among students and faculty in the district. Those cases break down to one active case at Longfellow Elementary, four active cases at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, four active cases at L.B. Williams Elementary, five active cases at Mitchell Middle School and 10 active cases at Mitchell High School.

The 24 total is up slightly from 20 reported the previous Friday.

Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District, said he was happy to see no significant increase in cases in the last month and attributed the low numbers to students, staff and faculty adhering to district guidelines on mitigating the spread of the respiratory disease as well as the overall drop in new cases at the local level.

“That is good news,” Graves said. “Of course right now we’re seeing a reduction in active cases in the county, so we were expecting to see that as well.”


Davison County currently has 256 active cases of the disease, which is a drop off from the 858 reported at this time last month.

With the first semester of the 2020 school year set to end on Dec. 22, Graves said the district will be focusing on deep cleaning in the school with students and staff out of the buildings. It’s a process that has become a habit at the district, he said, with custodial staff going the extra mile as well as faculty and staff pitching in to ensure sanitization is a priority.

“Our maintenance and people have stepped up, but so has everybody else. If you walk through the middle school library, you’ll see people constantly scrubbing chairs and tables, and not just maintenance. it’s paras and faculty, and student helpers, everyone is helping with that,” Graves said.

The district jumped on securing an adequate supply of cleaning supplies before the start of the school year, which has kept plenty of sanitizers, disinfectants and other essentials on hand for use throughout the school year.

“Supplies have been no problem, we jumped on that early. We’ve never had any shortages in that area,” Graves said.

The constant cleaning between classes and school days has led to some innovative shortcuts that help keep the sanitization job moving along efficiently. Graves said maintenance workers have modified certain floor sweepers for use on library and lunch tables, which allows them to more quickly clean than if they were using a simple spray bottle and cloth.

“You can just sail through. You’re still sanitizing, but you can do it a lot of time. The only trick is you have to reserve it just for that purpose. it’s typically a floor tool, but it’s not a floor tool anymore,” Graves said.

The stabilization of cases has allowed the district to step back from any immediate move to online learning, something that was a concern last month when cases appeared to be spiking, Graves said. Hopes the continued safety protocols and sanitization efforts will allow students and staff to remain in the best possible learning environment come second semester: the classroom.


“We have been able to go to school each and every day, and we haven’t missed a minute. I’m delighted with that. But we acknowledge the fact it can turn around,” Graves said. ‘I’m hoping we’re going to keep moving forward.”

Mitchell Technical College

At Mitchell Technical College, COVID-19 cases have dropped significantly since mid-November. The latest numbers show a total of six active cases, which is down sharply from the reported 19 cases among its students and another five among its staff at this time last month. Eleven faculty, staff or students are currently quarainting or in isolation. Since the start of the year, 108 students have recovered, according to the latest statistics.

Scott Fossum, dean of student success at the school, said credit to the low numbers likely goes to a combination of diligent student and faculty practices as well as the recent Mitchell city mask mandate that went into effect. Many Mitchell Tech students work or volunteer off campus, and numbers seem to have fallen with the implementation of that mandate.

“The other thing that I see is that our downward slope starts to correlate with the (mask) mandate in Mitchell. (It’s been a) nice decrease in there and leveled off as we’ve gotten into December. That’s one event that I know in November that may have helped,” Fossum said.

As the students wrap up exams and prepare to leave for the holiday break Thursday, Fossum said the school will work to deep-sanitize the campus in the style that has been done since the beginning of the school year. That process has gone smoothly during the year, he said, noting that the only real hiccup came in acquiring the desired number of hand sanitizing stations early in the year, though that was remedied in the first week or so of classes, he said.

“During the holiday break, we’ll make sure we go through and hit all those areas again and make sure they’re ready when students come back on Jan. 11,” Fossum said. “We’ve been doing all those things, and we’re going to make sure we keep doing those things.”

Dakota Wesleyan University

At Dakota Wesleyan University, there is currently one active case among students and one active case among faculty on campus. The figure is a significant drop from 16 active cases in mid-November. The school did not have students return to campus after leaving for Thanksgiving break, having students pick up their studies via online classes through the end of the semester in an effort to keep new cases from coming to campus from outside sources. There are currently about 70 students on campus as compared to 500 normally at this time of year.

Amy Novak, president of DWU, said it was difficult to attribute the current low infection numbers at the school to something other than the reduced number of people on campus, though she is confident that the Mitchell city mask mandate implemented recently is likely having a positive effect for students who work or volunteer in the community.


“I know those who have stayed here and continue to work have expressed their appreciation for it,” Novak said.

Like the Mitchell School District and Mitchell Tech, DWU has heavy cleaning protocols underway with less traffic now around campus. Novak said general cleaning supplies, such as sanitizers and other disinfectants, are in plentiful supply, but she is keeping an eye on the supply chain of COVID-19 testing materials, which the school has used regularly through the school year to test students and close contacts.

“When we started in the fall we had to approach a multitude of vendors to secure the (testing) supplies we needed, but that’s been better,” Novak said. “I continue to be concerned about supplies for testing, with athletics and the on-campus experience. We know that part of our success was the strategy we used for testing - quickly testing close contacts or people coming in from the community. That piece of the puzzle is still a challenge, making sure we have the supplies we need for the spring.”

Those are challenges the school is willing to take on to ensure a robust educational experience and a safe environment for everyone.

“All things considered, the first semester went really well in terms of successfully getting students to the Thanksgiving break in person and to be able to successfully have our athletic seasons and co-curricular activities,” Novak said. “For the second semester, we’re looking at what went well and what we can improve. We’re confident we can have a strong spring semester while we continue to practice physical distancing and all those measures so we can stay face-to-face.”

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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