An outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases at Parkers Prairie High School has caused students in grades 9-12 to start distance learning, and the cancellation of volleyball and football games and other activities.

School officials first heard about a positive test result after school on Tuesday, Oct. 13, said High School Principal Carey Johnson.

“Since then, we’ve had other students test positive,” she said. So far, 11 people at the high school have tested positive, including one staff member and 10 students out of a student body of 280, Johnson said. They have reported mild symptoms, such as feeling tired and achy, with some stomach cramping and headaches, and not all have had fever.

“They have been resting well and taking care of themselves,” she said.

On Wednesday, Oct. 14, all students switched to distance learning. They were off Thursday and Friday for Minnesota Education Association training. Over break, school leaders made the decision to continue distance learning for Grades 9-12, which was most affected by COVID.

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On Monday, Oct. 19, Grades 7-8 were back in school, while the upper grades continued to learn from home. The elementary school, which is in a separate building, was not affected, Johnson said.

The school is having to reschedule several events. Picture re-take day has been moved to later this month, and homecoming will have to be delayed. Football and volleyball games and other activities will resume Tuesday, Oct. 27, with the upper grades return to in-person learning on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

“Ultimately our first concern is about student safety, always,” Johnson said.

School officials consulted with a local health care practitioner as well as the Minnesota Department of Health. The health department has set up regional centers for all Minnesota schools, and the Parkers Prairie school was able to consult directly with the center in Fergus Falls, Johnson said.

She thanked the Parkers Prairie teachers and community for their response.

“I gotta say we’ve got a bunch of rock stars here on the teaching team," she said. She added, “We’re grateful for the school community’s support and for their flexibility. There’s been a lot of change and it’s been incredible, the way the Parkers Prairie community has jumped in and followed our lead.”

The positive cases in the Parkers Prairie school have come at a time when active COVID cases have been growing in Otter Tail County. On Sept. 20, there were 20 active cases in the county. A month later, there are 135, according to the Otter Tail County Department of Health.

"We’re just really spiking throughout all of Otter Tail County,” said Shannon Terry, county public information officer.

A quick glance at the county's Facebook page provides a glimpse into the divided response to the pandemic, with some voicing support for the health department's safety precautions and others arguing that COVID numbers are inflated for political or financial reasons.

Terry said the county has seen "COVID caution fatigue," with some unwilling to wear masks or socially distance. But the health department will continue to provide important information about the virus whether or not people want to hear it.

"It's our job," she said. "Obviously we care about the public's health."