CHIPPEWA FALLS — Only two weeks into the new school year, the Chippewa Falls School District plans to shift to a higher COVID-19 risk level when classes resume today.

Superintendent Jeff Holmes sent a letter to parents Friday night, explaining that virus cases have risen significantly in schools across the district.

“(Thursday), the CFAUSD had 12 total reported cases of students infected with COVID, which led to 77 total students being contact-traced/quarantined by (the Chippewa County Department of Public Health),” Holmes wrote to parents. “As of (4 p.m. Friday), we have 25 total reported cases of students infected with COVID, which will lead to 201 total students being contact-traced/quarantined by CCDPH. At this juncture, CFAUSD is awaiting word from CCDPH regarding whether or not these cases are outbreaks associated with CFAUSD settings.”

During the 2020-21 school year, only two outbreaks in the county could be attributed to CFAUSD settings, he added.

“As of Friday and only two weeks into the 2021-22 school year, we believe it is necessary to let everyone know that, if we are not notified by the county that these outbreaks are attributable to CFAUSD and because of the current numbers we are experiencing, we will shift to Level 3 status beginning (today). If we are notified by CCDPH that two or more of the past two weeks positive cases within CFAUSD are attributed to our settings, CFAUSD will shift to Level 4 status at that time.”

The district established six different levels for handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Level 3 calls for face masks to remain optional, but more robust mitigation measures will be in place, such as minimizing contacts, increased social distancing where possible, no visitors to buildings, and no field trips. Level 4 calls for mask mandates or orders in place when there is “dire community or school spread.” Level 5, if the district reaches that point, calls for implementing a hybrid learning model, with level 6 calling for online-only learning.

“As explained on numerous occasions, CFAUSD can not be an organization that is a contributor to community spread,” Holmes stated. “While we certainly are cognizant of, sympathize for, and empathize with the issues, pro and con, associated with mask-wearing in school settings, evidence strongly indicates that they do make a significant difference in curbing contraction of and the spread of COVID. Based upon everything we have experienced over the past year and a half, masks will help us stay in-person longer than doing otherwise.”

At her weekly COVID-19 news conference, Public Health Director Angela Weideman said that no one under age 18 is currently hospitalized in the county. Chippewa County now has 103 reported virus-related deaths — all but one person was unvaccinated, she added.