Empty classroom
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Oshkosh high schools and UW-River Falls cite ongoing coronavirus spread.

In an urgent letter sent Monday, Oshkosh Area School District officials announced they are abandoning in-person instruction at Oshkosh North High School and Oshkosh West High School for at least two weeks due to the continued extensive community spread of COVID-19 and the growing number of high school students and staff required to quarantine as the coronavirus spreads unchecked.

The announcement comes as the state Department of Health Services reports 1,271 new cases of COVID-19 statewide, the 11th highest daily number of the outbreak. The state set its highest daily figure of new cases last Friday at 2,533. There were an additional 2,283 reported on Saturday and 1,665 on Sunday. 

“It is clear that unless we stop the community spread of COVID-19, providing in-person instruction is simply not possible,” Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said in a statement about the end of a hybrid learning model that combines face-to-face and virtual teaching models. 

“The decisions we all make when out in the community impact the District’s ability to keep students and staff at school for in-person learning,” Cartwright said. “Please make sure that your student and your family are not engaged in COVID-19 transmission high-risk activities outside of school. Please continue wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing, avoiding large group gatherings, and staying home when sick.”

In Burnett County, the Siren school district on Monday halted in-person instruction at the middle school and high school after a positive test was reported for a family member of a student.

State health officials will not release information on school district outbreaks. The USA Today network and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are collecting school district closure information as they are able. Neither the Oskosh nor Siren reports were part of their digest by mid-Monday afternoon.

Last Friday, UW-River Falls students were asked to shelter in place and in-person classes were paused for two weeks due to a surge in positive COVID-19 tests among students living in dormitories. A hybrid learning model is forecast to begin Oct. 3.

UW-La Crosse and the flagship Madison campus have also temporarily halted in-person classes. Other UW System campuses also have experienced outbreaks of the virus. Wisconsin communities where those universities are located are among US locations with the fastest growth of COVID-19 cases. 

City officials in some of those communities have expressed concerns about college students ignoring orders to wear face masks and not social distancing when they’re off campus, gathering at locations such as bars and house parties and spreading the virus. Some of them, such as Eau Claire, are considering ordinances that would give local health department directors greater ability to enforce such measures. 

In some counties, such as Chippewa County, such proposals have been denied by local government leaders after residents have expressed concerns about granting health officers too much power. Those discussions are occurring as a statewide mask mandate is set to expire on Sept. 28 unless it is extended. 

Monday’s 1,271 new cases made up 18.7% of 6,796 total tests processed. Over the past seven days, Wisconsin has recorded 12,542 new COVID-19 cases and the average daily positivity rate has been 16.4%, the highest ratio of positive tests recorded so far.

Three deaths reported Saturday, one on Sunday, and two on Monday brought the Wisconsin coronavirus death toll to 1,244.