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Alexandria forced to move full slate of games with Warriors after cluster of COVID-19 cases in Brainerd

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Brainerd Warrior head football coach Jason Freed talks to his socially distanced players Tuesday, Sept. 22, on a practice field at Brainerd High School. Sports and other activities at the high school are postponed beginning Wednesday, Sept. 23, due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the school. (Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch)

A growing cluster of COVID-19 cases in Brainerd that has forced all ninth through 12th-grade students at Brainerd High School, Lincoln Education Center and Brainerd Learning Center to move to temporary distance learning has led to Alexandria moving a whole slate of sporting events that were set for Sept. 29 with the Warriors.

The move to virtual learning for students in Brainerd began on Sept. 24 and will run through at least Oct. 7 before the school’s hybrid learning model is expected to begin again Thursday, Oct. 8, with B group students returning to in-person classes that day.

“The school district has diligently completed contact tracing for students and staff who have come in contact with COVID-19 to date; however, our current cluster has grown to a point where we cannot contact trace each person involved within the positive cluster exposure,” Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson wrote in a letter to families Tuesday, Sept. 22. “Through the process of our contact tracing, it has become clear that the rapid transmission of these positive cases occurred outside of school during social gatherings.”

All Brainerd High School-sponsored athletics and activities will be postponed or canceled during the designated time of distance learning, and there will be no in-person practices or competitions.

Alexandria and Brainerd are part of the Central Lakes Conference, and the Warriors and Cardinals were originally scheduled to square off on Sept. 29 in varsity tennis, girls soccer, boys soccer and swimming and diving. Alexandria Activities Director Ben Kvidt said the Cardinals hope to reschedule the events with Brainerd to Oct. 8.

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It is not a given that school-sponsored activities for a district will always be shut down if a school goes to full distance learning.

“The language and guidance from the Minnesota State High School League in regards to activities states that if a district chooses to go to distance learning they may continue with their activities,” Kvidt wrote in an email response to the Echo Press. “However, if a district is forced to go to distance learning because of county metrics or an outbreak, then their activities would be suspended.”

School districts work with public health officials to do contact tracing to determine the extent of an outbreak, along with the locations. Schools will then use that information to make a decision that is safest for their individual district.

A school may make the decision to go to distance learning instead of being forced into it because of a spike in COVID-19 cases within its overall county.

If contact tracing is done and the outbreak of cases is determined to be isolated to another community outside of that school district, the school could still choose to continue with activities while in the distance-learning model.

As of Sept. 25, the Alexandria boys soccer team has been the only Cardinals’ varsity program to have its season paused due to a positive COVID-19 test within the team. That happened in early September before the boys soccer team resumed play on Sept. 18 against Bemidji.

Douglas County is seeing a recent increase of positive COVID-19 cases . After meetings early the week of Sept. 21, Alexandria Public Schools decided to continue with its current learning models of in-person education every day for elementary students and alternating virtual and in-person days for students in middle school and high school. Should that education plan change in the future, whether or not activities would shut down would depend on the situation.

“There is a lot that goes into making the decision to not only go to distance learning, but also whether or not activities will continue,” Kvidt said. “Ultimately, we as a district, in consolation with public health officials, will make a decision that is best for the overall health and safety of our students, staff, and families.”

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(Theresa Bourke of the Brainerd Dispatch Newspaper contributed to this story)

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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