As the Poynette School District prepares to welcome students back to the halls in about five weeks, the plan for 2021-22 still deals with the COVID-19 pandemic — and mitigation strategies.

The topic was discussed at the school board meeting on July 19, as District Administrator Matt Shappell briefly talked about the district’s COVID-19 and Return to Learn updates.

Shappell said that despite a recent “uptick” in the state’s COVID-19 cases — mainly as a result from the Delta variant of the virus — the Poynette School District will maintain its policy of face masks being “recommended, but not required” for the 2021-22 school year. He went on to note that just like last year, things could change quickly, and the district will make future decisions based on the numbers at the local level.

Per the most recent update by Columbia County Public Health on July 14, only 15 new cases have been reported by the CCPH from June 23-July 14. There are currently no active investigations within various groups and/or facilities. The COVID-19 activity level remains at a “medium” level, per the CCPH, and the COVID-19 percent positive level is holding steady at “low.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has also broken down COVID-19 data by school districts on its website — with all the following information as of 2 p.m. on July 23. Within Columbia County, the Lodi and Poynette districts have some of the highest numbers in regards to residents being fully vaccinated, or who have received their first dose.

In the Poynette district, 55.8% of residents are fully vaccinated, with 58.1% having gotten at least one dose. In Lodi, 61.5% of residents are fully vaccinated (63.6% with one dose). Other districts that lie within the county include Sauk Prairie (59.3% complete, 61.1% one dose), Columbus (57.7% complete, 59.8% one dose), Fall River (50.8% complete, 52.2% one dose), Rio (49.3% complete, 50.9% one dose), Cambria-Friesland (46.9% complete, 48.6% one dose), Portage (45.7% complete, 47.6% one dose), Pardeeville (44.4% complete, 46.6% one dose), and Randolph (42.2% complete, 43.6% one dose).

Also according to the CCPH, of the county residents aged 12-15, 29.5% are fully vaccinated. The percentage rises to 38.2% for for those aged 16-17. Nearly 52% of county residents are fully vaccinated, with an additional 2.6% receiving their first dose.

Given those numbers, and a low transmission rate, the Poynette district plans on all three school buildings having a full week of classes, and lockers will be allowed for student use at the middle and high school.

“Our intent is to go five days per week, based on the local levels,” Shappell said. “But we won’t make any predictions (for the rest of the year),” he added, again noting how quickly things could change.

Staff requirements for face coverings may be different than students for the coming year. The district is still working with the bus company to determine any masking requirements for riders.

Other mitigation strategies that will remain in place in Poynette are: MERV 13 filters in the HVAC systems; increased fresh air/air turnover; HEPA filters in classrooms; additional cleaning and sanitizing of frequently touched areas; and as much social distancing as possible. Contact tracing and quarantines of close contacts, positive cases and presumed positives cases will also continue. Symptomatic staff and students will still be sent home as well.

“We’re trying to get back close to being normal, but we will still contact trace,” Shappell said.

Shappell said that the district will not require students aged 12 and older to get COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’ll leave it up to the (individual) families to decide that (whether to vaccinate their children),” Shappell said.

Dane County school districts reports higher vaccination rates

When compared to other counties across the state, school districts within Dane County have some of the highest vaccination rates among its residents.

Six districts in and around the Madison area all have a fully vaccinated rate among residents at 70% or higher. The two districts with the highest percentage of residents fully vaccinated are Middleton-Cross Plains and McFarland at 72.8%. The MC-P district has 75.1% of residents with at least one dose, while McFarland is at 75.2%. The Madison Metropolitan district, second largest in the state, has 72.4% of residents fully vaccinated. It also has 75.4% with at least one dose — the highest percentage in the state.

Other Dane County districts include Waunakee (72.3% complete, 74.7% one dose), Oregon (72.2% complete, 74.1% one dose), Monona Grove (70% complete, 72.3% one dose), Sun Prairie (67% complete, 69.2% one dose), and DeForest (60.3% complete, 62.3% one dose).

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