FARGO — Following an increase to the “orange” risk level and new recommendations from Gov. Doug Burgum to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Cass County school districts are limiting sporting event attendance but are not changing instruction plans yet.

In what is on pace to become the state’s deadliest month since the coronavirus pandemic began, middle and high school students in Fargo are expected to return to hybrid learning on Oct. 19, with elementary students to begin full-time, in-person classes on Oct. 26, according to Superintendent Rupak Gandhi.

West Fargo students are slated to continue hybrid learning pending a special board meeting scheduled for Friday, Oct. 16.

Burgum said during an Oct. 14 press conference that students who are out of school can increase transmissible moments to potentially spread the coronavirus.

“We know now from many studies … that schools are not turning out to be any kind of super spreader events that people thought they were,” Burgum said. “The change of color codes does not relate to any recommended or desired changes to the instructional models in schools. In fact, (it's) the opposite. ... We believe we can reduce transmissible moments by keeping kids in schools.”

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Both Fargo and West Fargo public school districts announced on Thursday, Oct. 15, that attendance to sporting events would be limited to team members and essential personnel only starting at 5 p.m. Friday.

“The change is necessary in order for us to continue providing co-curricular activities in a safe environment for our students and athletes,” Public Relations Coordinator for West Fargo Public Schools Heather Leas said in an email.

Fargo Public Schools spokesperson AnnMarie Campbell said Burgum asked that schools not tie their plans to “county risk colors.”

“During the press conference yesterday, the governor specifically asked schools to not make decisions based on county risk levels, as those are for businesses,” Campbell said. “This was reinforced by Superintendent (Kirsten) Baesler during a North Dakota Healthy Return to Learning Townhall today (Thursday).”

On Oct. 5, Gandhi said data shows students aren’t transmitting the coronavirus as much as it's happening elsewhere in the county, and new research has emerged stating it is safer to have the same students together on a daily basis rather than to have them in a hybrid learning model where transmissible moments at day cares or shopping centers were potentially more frequent.

The Fargo Public Schools COVID-19 Instructional Plan Committee is slated to meet Monday, and if changes are made, the community will be alerted, Campbell said.

West Fargo Public Schools echoed Burgum’s message, saying the orange-coded designation is reserved for bars, restaurants and large venues.

“He specifically stated that this change should not automatically result in a learning model change for schools,” Leas said in an email.

Cass County is among 15 other counties in the state for which the risk level was moved up to “high risk” on Wednesday, which means between 30 to 39 people per 10,000 tested positive for COVID-19, according to the state’s department of health.

Cass County actually fits the “red” or "critical" risk level of more than 40 active cases per 10,000 people with 88.09 positive cases per 10,000 people, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.

In comparison, Burleigh County was listed at 134 positive cases per 10,000 people, according to information posted on the Department of Health website.

The state’s health department says 370 North Dakotans have died from COVID-19 since March, and deaths have been mounting at a rapid pace over the last two months. A total of 103 deaths have been recorded in October so far, and there were 120 deaths reported in September.