Three simple things can turn around surging COVID cases, said Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Public Health, during a special briefing of the media.

“Keep six feet of distance, avoid gatherings and wear a mask,” she said.

“The schools have managed to control spread by doing these three things, and so can the community,” said Chandler. “If we don’t stop the rise of COVID here in the next two weeks, our community spread will force schools to all go to distance learning. And that also means no sports and activities.”

As of Monday, Oct. 12, at 8 a.m., Itasca County has continued to see a significant rise in cases, due largely to social gatherings such as weddings, backyard barbecues, at bars and restaurants, and clusters in workplaces. Over the past 14 days, the county has seen 223 new cases and an average of 46.1 cases per 10,000 residents.

At an average of 50 cases per 10,000 residents, State of Minnesota guidelines suggest a shift to distance-only learning, which also would mean most school sports and activities would stop.

“Sports are important because that’s one way we make friends, have motivation for good grades, learn how to be leaders on and off the court, and set the highest of goals for ourselves and our teams,” said Natalie Haley, a senior volleyball player at Bigfork high School.

Classmate Jared Lovdahl agreed, saying, “Without sports, students could lose that high school experience, and for Natalie and me, it would be our senior year of sports, the year we’ve been looking forward to our entire sports career. We would be heartbroken, not only for ourselves but for our teammates who are now family because our last year together would get cut short.”

Deer River senior football player Blake Fox also weighed in. “Last spring, I missed out on baseball. I really don’t want to miss out on a full year of sports being it’s my last year. I’m trying to do the best I can to keep the community safe so we can continue with sports.”

“It’s vital for kids to continue with social interaction, and with school moving to hybrid we’re probably on the verge of complete distance learning,” said David Kuschel, president, Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association. “Sports are really important right now so that kids can still see their friends and have social interaction.”

Jeri Shaughnessy is the parent of a Greenway varsity basketball player looking forward to her senior season. “My daughter missed out on her junior prom and softball last spring,” she said. “I saw back then what it was doing mentally to the students. We tried to keep their hopes up, and they worked to do their part. For seniors, especially, it takes a toll for those looking for athletic and academic scholarships. I think it’s really important that they are able to stay in their school activities and sports.”

To support community members in showing their commitment to wear a mask, maintain 6-foot distance from others and avoid gatherings, volunteers have formed #MaskUpItasca. The initiative has taken a positive approach, providing “thanks for wearing a mask” signs, conducting a back-to-school mask-making campaign, and now offering social media tools for individuals to show that they pledge to do their part to keep schools open.

Itasca County has created a local dashboard with current local data, including positive COVID cases by ZIP code. It can be found at: https://www.co.itasca.mn.us/798/COVID-19-Coronavirus-Information

Itasca residents with questions or concerns may leave them at the Itasca County COVID message line, with calls returned 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday. The Itasca COVID line number is 218-327-6784.

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