La Follette HS 091421 11-10072021152519 (copy)

Students wear masks as they move through the hallways during a passing period at La Follette High School in Madison last fall.

Madison Metropolitan School District students and staff reported 703 positive COVID-19 cases over the past week, nearly three times the previous record of 251 — set the week prior.

According to the district’s weekly case count tracker, updated on Wednesdays, the district also added 655 close contacts Jan. 3-9. That range includes the extended winter break and two days of virtual learning.

The district changed its reporting period on the case tracker, which had previously covered Wednesday-Wednesday, but now will cover Monday-Sunday, while still being updated on Tuesday nights or Wednesday mornings.

The high case numbers are no surprise given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant both locally and nationally. It has sent some schools around the country back into virtual learning, though MMSD was the only Dane County district to extend its winter break and shift to virtual instruction for any period of time so far.

Over the past two weeks, staff have had 328 positive cases and students have 626. The case tracker only breaks down those categories for the past two weeks.

The spread is contributing to students and staff missing school. The district's medical advisers have said schools are likely the safest place for students to be even amid rapid spread, given the mitigation practices in place compared to other places they may be in the community.

Attendance on Monday was at 80.6%, below the district’s average from the 2020-21 school year but higher than some large districts that have remained in-person like New York City schools.

Staffing, meanwhile, is “still hovering near critical staffing levels at many of its schools, due to COVID-19,” according to an email from district spokesman Tim LeMonds on Monday. He has not provided updated numbers, but as of Jan. 4, there were 547 planned staff absences for this week, with nearly 200 of them unfilled.

For the school year since Aug. 18, the district has now totaled 2,184 positive cases and 7,883 close contacts, meaning nearly one-third of the positive cases have come over the past week. The district has more than 25,000 students and 4,000 staff members.

With the record number of cases, every school in the district added to its case numbers for the school year.

Among the high schools, Memorial added 73 cases and West added 62 cases. As of the Jan. 5 update, Memorial had 74 cases for the entire year, while West had 62 last week. East added 55 cases and La Follette added 43.

At the middle school level, the biggest increases came at Hamilton with 19 cases over the past week and Sennett, which had 17 cases. Black Hawk, Cherokee, Jefferson, O’Keeffe, Toki and Wright all had 10 or more cases over the past week, as well.

Schenk, Randall and Huegel elementary schools had the most among that level with 16 cases at each. Henderson, Franklin and Elvehjem were close behind at 15 apiece.

Some surrounding districts are seeing similar trends, with the Verona Area School District’s case count showing 240 cases over the past week, more than one-third of its 611 on the school year.

The Middleton Cross Plains Area School District’s tracker shows 308 cases the week of Jan. 3-9, the most recent update. That’s well above the previous weekly high for the school year of 168, which was set from Dec. 27 through Jan. 2.

As of the most recent update to Oregon School District’s case tracker, on Jan. 10, there were 76 active positive cases among staff and students, with 570 on the school year. On the same day, the Waunakee Community School District showed 102 student and 22 staff cases among 441 and 71 for the school year, respectively.

Correction: The story previously stated the 703 cases were for Jan. 5-12, as that had been the district's reporting period for every week since Aug. 18. However, the district will now report numbers for a Monday-Sunday timeline, updating the case tracker on Tuesday nights or Wednesday mornings.

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