Petersburg is seeing its highest COVID-19 active case count since the start of the pandemic and officials are cautioning about the virus spreading in the community. This outbreak has changed operations this week at the hospital and the schools. Petersburg’s emergency operations center Tuesday announced three more COVID positive test results, all in the same family and connected to other cases already announced. Petersburg is now reporting 10 active cases with eight new positives in the last week and a 2.4 percent positivity rate. That’s a rolling average of the number of cases per day based on the past week.

As KFSK’s Angela Denning reports, the recent outbreak is causing the Petersburg School District to start the new semester remotely.

School in Petersburg has been in-person for most of the fall but it will be distance learning for all students starting this week. Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says the district made the decision after consulting with the Petersburg Medical Center, Public Health, and the Emergency Operation Center about the local outbreak.

She says the district is being cautious about mixing up 500 students and staff after the winter break. Besides the known positive COVID cases, there are many pending tests in town.

“We have some people who are really having some pretty serious cases it sounds like,” Kludt-Painter said. “So, it’s not just sort of the asymptomatic test that pops up randomly. It sounds like there’s a little bit more symptomatic cases in town, which is concerning.”

Petersburg’s junior high and high school students already have their laptops and their schedule won’t change that much. Kludt-Painter stresses that remote learning doesn’t mean all-day screen time for them.

“People sitting in front of the screen from 8:15 to 2:00 is not the goal,” Kludt-Painter said. “So, there will be some opportunities for movement and time to receive instruction and then either shut down the video or just log out for a bit and then log back in.”

The elementary school will also be remote but will focus on the subject of reading this week and some optional activities. Elementary teachers planned to deliver computers and other resources to students on Tuesday. Kludt-Painter says it will be a low-key week for the young students, who have a harder time with distance learning.

“It’s just a different beast, it’s more challenging to navigate that for kids and for families too,” she said.

The school district will reevaluate the community’s COVID status next weekend before scheduling school for next week. During remote learning days, pick-up meals are being provided for all students 18 and under who want them; parents just need to fill out a survey. Kludt-Painter says for parents to keep checking their texts and emails for updated messages from the schools.

Two of the new Petersburg COVID cases—announced Monday afternoon— are staff persons at the Petersburg Medical Center. PMC has moved to a red operational status, which means patients with appointments will be contacted by medical center staff to either reschedule or utilize telehealth services.

Petersburg’s Emergency Operation Center changed the community status to a moderate-risk level.

“It’s more cases then we have seen concentrated at one time throughout the pandemic,” said EOC Incident Commander, Karl Hagerman.

Petersburg’s travel related cases include within the state, out of state, and international travel. Hagerman says some of the other cases, which are community spread, are related to one family but others are not connected to one another.

“From all the information I have so far, they are apparently unrelated,” said Hagerman. “So, not only is the virus in Petersburg but it is not isolated to a certain group or a specific travel occurrence.”

Hagerman says residents should continue to wear face coverings and social distance when around non-household members, and test twice when returning from travel.  The EOC encourages essential business and government offices to stagger staffing and for bars and restaurants to reduce capacity.

Here is Hagerman’s full length interview with KFSK about the recent outbreak:

Per the approved Risk Communication Plan, the community is encouraged to follow the recommendations of the Risk Communication Plan for Level 2 – ORANGE.  Detailed guidance can be found through the Community Risk Communication Plan link on the COVID-19 Dashboard.  In general, Level 2 recommendations include:

  • Adherence to local Mandate #8 in regard to wearing face coverings, especially in public locations when in the company of others.
  • Maintaining 6 feet of distance between yourself and people outside of your household.
  • Limiting gatherings to up to 50 people if outside and 25 people inside, with high regard for face coverings, social distancing and hygiene.
  • Recommendations for the School District include considering limits of 50% of students in the building at one time in a hybrid education mode.  Additional safety protocols defined in the PCSD Smart Start plan.
  • Adherence to all State and Local travel mandates and testing protocols – including follow up second tests with a State Testing Voucher.
  • Encouraging staggered staffing for essential businesses and government facilities.
  • Strongly recommending that bars go to 25% capacity, restaurants go to 50% capacity by reservation only and emphasis on delivery/carryout/curbside pickup.
  • Personal service businesses operate by appointment only, without a waiting room.
  • Gyms limit inside capacity to 25-50%.