A01 A01

Education, childcare workers to receive COVID vaccine
So far, 2,327 Price County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 908 people have completed the vaccine series

With Wisconsin now in the second stage of the COVID-19 vaccination process, education and childcare workers are eligible to be immunized, starting this week.

Price County Public Health Officer Michelle Edwards reported that approximately 70-75% of employees in the county's three school districts have expressed an interest in being immunized. By the end of next week, all school employees who wish to be vaccinated should have received their first dose.

Vaccination clinics will be held on school campuses both this week and next, and all second doses should be completed by April 9.

Edwards noted that two weeks after the final dose has been completed, a vaccinated individual will not need to quarantine if they come in contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 — which should help ease the burden on schools to minimize contacts.

Any other education or childcare workers who want to be vaccinated are also eligible.

Once the priority group of education and childcare workers have been vaccinated, the next priority group will be individuals who are enrolled in long-term Medicaid programs.

Public-facing essential workers will be the next priority, with first dose clinics planned for March 25. This group will be a large one in Price County, and will include employees of grocery stores, gas stations, etc., agriculture production workers such as employees on local farms, public transit workers such as BART bus drivers and volunteer drivers for seniors, and employees of utility and communication services whose work prevents them from social distancing.

Healthcare employees who are not on the front lines will encompass the next group, which includes IT workers, buildings and grounds employees, etc.

The final group in this phase of the vaccination distribution will be those in congregate living, such as those living in shared employer-based housing, patients of mental health institutions, individuals in transitional housing or homeless shelters, and those who are incarcerated. In Price County, the main group that will fall into this category are individuals in the Price County Jail.

Price County Public Health is working in close partnership with Marshfield Clinic in order to distribute vaccinations as quickly and efficiently as possible, according to Edwards. Since there are several large groups within this phase of the distribution process, Edwards said it is unlikely it will be completed before the end of April or beginning of May.

So far, 2,327 Price County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 908 people have completed the vaccine series. Edwards reported that the majority of healthcare workers who chose to be vaccinated have completed their series, as have employees and residents of local assisted living and nursing homes.

Marshfield Clinic has reported they will continue to focus on vaccinating citizens aged 65 and older, any remaining healthcare workers, as well as police, firefights, and correctional staff — prioritizing those groups until vaccination is complete. People who wish to be added to a waitlist for the vaccine can visit marshfieldclinic.org/CovidVaccine or call 877-998-0880.

On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Service reported that 912,429 people statewide have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 8.5% of the state's population have been fully vaccinated.

Regional case numbers

As of Monday, Price County had confirmed a total of 1,161 cases of the coronavirus, 15 of which were currently active. Cases were up by 11 from a week previous. A total of 1,139 people in Price County have recovered from the virus.

Oneida County had confirmed 3,306 cases as of

Monday — up by 43 from the week previous — with 55 active cases. There have been 161 hospitalizations, one of which is current, and 66 deaths (one of which is new since last week) attributed to the virus. A total of 3,184 people have recovered, and 22,588 tests have returned negative.

Lincoln County had confirmed 2,909 cases — up by 17 — with 23 active cases. There have been 115 hospitalizations and 57 deaths (up by one) attributed to the virus. A total of 2,828 people have recovered, and 11,539 tests have returned negative.

Vilas County had confirmed 2,263 cases — up by 62 — with 80 active cases. There have been 125 hospitalizations and 39 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 2,145 people have recovered, and 8,959 tests have returned negative.

Taylor County had confirmed 2,001 cases — up by nine — with 38 active cases. There have been 65 hospitalizations and 30 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 5,713 people have recovered, and 5,713 tests have returned negative.

Sawyer County had confirmed 1,517 cases — up by 21 — with 27 active cases. There have been 76 hospitalizations and 21 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 1,467 people have recovered, and 8,117 tests have returned negative.

Rusk County had confirmed 1,253 cases — up by eight — with 16 active cases. There have been 85 hospitalizations and 16 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 1,221 people have recovered, and 4,827 tests have returned negative.

Ashland County had confirmed 1,174 cases, up by three. There have been 52 hospitalizations and 16 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 6,790 tests have returned negative.

Iron County had confirmed 541 cases, up by 10. There have been 39 hospitalizations, and 20 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 2,479 tests have returned negative.

Active case numbers and recoveries were not available for Iron and Ashland counties.

Mid-year assessments show decline in students' proficiency

Nearly a year after the pandemic first began affecting life in the Northwoods, the Phillips School District is still juggling safety concerns with students' academic performance and the toll the past year has taken on the mental health of students and teachers alike.

Comparative data recently compiled by the district has allowed an early glimpse into the effect the pandemic has had on students' performance in reading and math. The data, which is gathered through Star assessments, compare the proficiency levels of students in January 2021 to their assessments in January 2020.

The majority of classes saw a decline in the percentage of students performing at levels considered proficient, compared to last year's mid-year assessments.

According to Vicki Lemke, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services at Phillips School District, the school would ideally like to see 80% of students (or more) at proficient levels.

Yet of all classes from first through 11th grade, only one had attained that level by January 2021. With 85% of the students in 10th grade being considered proficient in math, this was also one of only a few grades to improve over last year's math proficiency rating.

In first grade, 73% of students were found to be at or above the proficient level in math, and 54% were at or above the proficient level in reading. There is no comparative data for the year previous since at that time these students were in kindergarten.

In second grade, 64% of students were deemed proficient in math, compared to 82% last year. However, these students saw an improvement in reading proficiency, with 71% deemed proficient, compared to 62% last year.

In third grade, 65% of students were deemed proficient in math, compared to 78% last year. In reading, 63% of students were deemed proficient, compared to 73% last year.

In fourth grade, 64% of students were deemed proficient in math, compared to 77% last year. In reading, 64% of students were deemed proficient, compared to 70% last year.

In fifth grade, 65% of students were deemed proficient in math, compared to 89% last year. In reading, 58% of students were deemed proficient, compared to 73% last year.

In sixth grade, 63% of students were deemed proficient in math, compared to 80% last

year. Reading proficiency levels remained stable in this grade compared to last year, with 52% of students deemed proficient in both 2020 and 2021.

In seventh grade, 74% of students were deemed proficient in math, compared to 79% last year. The percentage of students who achieved proficiency in reading showed a slight increase since last year, with 57% in 2021 compared to 56% in 2020.

In eighth grade, the percentage of students deemed proficient in math — 76% — saw no change from last year. Reading proficiency saw a decline, however, with 47% of students were deemed proficient this year, compared to 57% last year.

In ninth grade, 74% of students were deemed proficient in math, compared to 81% last year. In reading, 40% of students were deemed proficient, compared to 51% last year.

Tenth graders saw an improvement in proficiency, with 85% of students deemed proficient in math, compared to 76% last year. There were improvements made in reading as well, with 63% of students deemed proficient this year, compared to 52% last year.

In 11th grade, math proficiency levels remained stable compared to last year, with 69% of students deemed proficient in both 2020 and 2021. Reading proficiency saw a slight increase, with 47% of students deemed proficient this year, compared to 45% last year.

While students' midyear proficiency levels are lower than what the district would like to see, Lemke said she expects these levels will improve before the end of the year.

This assessment data is used to help teachers identify students who are struggling academically, according to Lemke. Each student's needs are individually considered, and specialized learning plans may be created to assist those who need extra help.

"This data shows teachers the specific areas where kids are struggling, which is very helpful for finding solutions," Lemke told the Review.

Although the majority of students were not yet at levels considered proficient, a look at the district's running records shows that of all kindergarten through fifth-grade students, 64% were at or above their expected reading level for the January benchmark — while 96% had made gains since they returned to school in the fall.

Although the school district was exempt from state testing last year due to the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the early days of the pandemic, students will be required to participate in state testing this year.

The first test will be the ACT, which will be completed by Phillips High School juniors virtually on March 31. Testing for the ACT Aspire will take place in the last two weeks of April.

Mental health, social implications

"In general, mental health has played a sig nificant role in the academic performance declines from last year," Lemke told the Review.

The school's Take 10 rooms, which serve as a first-step mental health resource for students, have seen a 65% increase in usage since January 2020.

The Take 10 rooms are meant to address the daily mental health needs of students by providing a designated space in both the high school and elementary for students to go and speak with an adult regarding any issue that may be affecting their ability to focus in the classroom.

In the case of serious issues, students may be referred to a principal, counselor, or other professional.

In a normal year, the reasons kids use the rooms vary from conflicts with friends or peers, stress over academic performance, or issues affecting the student in their home life.

However, this year has seen a considerable increase in the number of kids experiencing anxiety — both medically diagnosed and observational — through all grades, according to Lemke.

"We have kids who are worried about getting sick or worried about family members getting sick," Lemke told the Phillips School Board of Education at their regular meeting on Feb. 15. "Some students are concerned about being in the school buildings. Others are concerned they are not getting enough inperson education. There are home issues. There are students who have issues with wearing the mask due to sensory issues. There are students who are angry that people aren't taking COVID seriously. Some kids are finding it difficult not seeing their friends at school because they are in separate cohorts. Others are struggling with being grouped together with the same students day after day."

These are new issues confronting both kids and counselors, Lemke told the Review — presenting additional stressors atop the normal dayto-day issues a student may encounter in school.

"We're seeing this across the board with kids," Lemke said. "This is affecting highly performing students as well as those who are struggling academically."

The district has a school psychologist and counselors on staff in order to assist in addressing students' mental health needs, as well as the support of two counseling agencies outside the school district.

In many cases, Lemke said the school's mental health workers are aiming to be proactive in supporting students — reaching out to kids that are struggling before situations escalate in an attempt to mitigate issues and assist students in caring for themselves.

Regardless of whether students are attending school virtually or inperson, the district has resources available for assisting them in their mental health needs, Lemke said.

Most students attending in-person classes four days a week since February

Since the start of the 2020-21 school year, the Phillips School District has offered a blended version, combining remote learning with inperson classes.

Since early February, students in all grades have had the option to come to school up to four days a week. Wednesdays are reserved as a day for students to spend working independently on school projects at home, allowing teachers an in-service day. Students who choose to may attend school virtually from their home on certain days, or attend specific classes in person and others virtually. As of March 1, just 62 of the district's 744 students were participating in virtual classes only.

Prior to February, the high school student body had been divided into four groups and each group had attended school twice a week, with the other two days taking virtual classes taught in real-time by teachers in the classroom.

There have been strategies implemented to limit students interacting with other classrooms, in order to reduce the number of close contacts any one student has.

These strategies have been implemented with the aim of reducing the number of close contacts any one individual may encounter in the course of a school day, thereby limiting the spread should a member of staff of student test positive for COVID-19.


(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)