Officials with Mitchell Public School, Dakota Wesleyan University and Mitchell Technical College report active cases of COVID-19 are relatively low and holding steady as the three institutions continue with in-person classes for the 2020-21 school year.

The Mitchell School District recently reported a total of 13 active cases throughout the three elementary schools, middle school and high school. Of those cases, four were reported at L.B. Williams Elementary, two were reported at Mitchell Middle School and seven were reported at Mitchell High School, according to the latest statistics.

That is up slightly from the last weekly report, which indicated a total of 11 active cases among students and staff. Of those cases, one was reported at Longfellow Elementary, three at L.B. Williams Elementary, two at Mitchell Middle School and five at Mitchell High School.

Joe Graves, superintendent for the district, said it is pleasing to see the number of active cases stay relatively low as the school year continues.

“It is very pleasing. That's what we’re hoping for - to not have spikes,” Graves said.

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The district has had strict policies in place regarding COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year. That includes a strict mask policy that requires anyone on school property to wear a mask. That has caused some pushback from members of the public at recent board of education meetings.

While he feels the measures currently being taken are effective, he said it can be difficult to fully gauge the opinion of school patrons on the measures.

“That’s hard to say. When I’m at a board meeting, I hear they’re not on board with it. When I walk the halls and hear from parents, they are,” Graves said. “It’s hard to say how happy or not people are with it.”

All active cases are currently in isolation or quarantine, Graves said.

Serious approach yields results for DWU

Dakota Wesleyan University reported 10 active cases of COVID-19 in its most recent update on infection numbers at the private four-year school in Mitchell. That is about average compared to recent weeks, which returned to in-person classes this fall with a strict face mask requirement in place on staff.

Amy Novak, president of DWU, said the past two or three weeks have seen student cases number between eight and 12, with a handful of staff or faculty cases to go along with that. She said some cases are likely the result of having an active student body whose members work jobs in the community, where they can be exposed and bring the disease back to campus with them.

“The last couple of weeks we’ve seen an uptick in positives. Part of that is due to the fact the students are working in the community, so some are bringing exposures back from their workplaces,” Novak told the Mitchell Republic. “That’s resulting in some spread across the campus to some degree. But it’s not out of control or unmanageable.”

She said she believes the steps the school has taken — requiring face masks, setting up classroom space to accommodate social distancing and a rigorous testing and quarantining protocol — have helped limit the spread of the disease.

“We’re really strict about wearing face coverings. Even students working out in weight rooms have face coverings,” Novak said. “I really feel that strict adherence to that policy has helped mitigate the spread.”

Mitchell Tech works to mitigate impact

Cases at Mitchell Technical College are also fairly stable, said Julie Brookbank, vice president for advancement at the school.

Brookbank said there are currently six active cases among students and one active case among employees. In all, 36 students and nine staff members have recovered from the virus. Those in isolation or quarantine also dropped from 41 to 31 with the latest report.

Those numbers jibe with active case numbers since the start of the year, she said.

“I’m looking at the whole range since we’ve been actively tracking since Sept. 2, and on a weekly basis it is in the single digits if not low double-digits,” Brookbank said. “We’ve never exceeded 15 in one week, so we’re very pleased with that.”

Brookbank credits mitigation efforts at the school and the vigilance of the student body with keeping COVID-19 cases at the school low.

“With the sheer number of students we have on campus on a daily basis, it speaks to our students abiding by the protocols, keeping their masks on while on campus and maintaining physical distance,” Brookbank said.

Getting through a school year in these difficult times requires dedication from everyone involved, from school leadership to faculty to the student body itself, she said. The school has now reached the midterm point in the year, and hopefully COVID-19 numbers remain low for the remainder of the year, she said.

“We’ve just been banging the drum that we have to keep doing what we are doing. We want to stay on campus,” Brookbank said. “This is how we do it.”

In Davison County, state officials confirmed 13 new confirmed cases Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 274 with 475 recovered. The county has been between 245 and 290 active cases since Oct. 14. Four deaths have been confirmed in Davison County since COVID-19 began impacting South Dakota.