Minnesota Recommends Masks in Schools, Up to Individual Districts to Mandate Them
Minnesota health and education officials announced Wednesday that they will recommend the use of masks inside schools for the start of the 2021-22 school year, regardless of vaccination status. The recommendation follows CDC guidance announced earlier this week.
The decision to require masks, however, will be left up to individual school boards.
“Each of our school boards and school leaders will be making the decision about what that looks like for their school communities,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller.
Wednesday’s state announcement comes amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant. State health officials say 75% of new cases are linked to this particular viral strain.
“The delta variant is proving to have an alarming ability to spread more easily, so it’s more important than ever that anyone eligible for vaccination get that protection as soon as possible,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm in a statement to CCX News.
The recommendation pertains to all students, teachers, staff and visitors inside school buildings regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is available to people ages 12 and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for ages 18 and up.
More than 600 New Cases Announced Wednesday
The guidance rolled out Wednesday comes as the state reported 625 new cases. Daily case counts are the highest since May 20. In the last week, state health officials reported just under 2,800 new cases, a 72% increase compared to the week prior. The state’s 7-day case positivity rate is 2.8%, more than double that of a month ago.
“The speed of case growth is truly concerning,” Malcolm said during Wednesday’s press conference.
Hospitalizations are also increasing. The number of new case admissions grew to 164 during a seven-day period between July 20 and July 26, up from 133 the week prior. Those hospitalized needing intensive care also increased from 20 to 26 people during the same time frame, an indication the delta variant is causing more severe illness.
“More and more evidence is mounting that the delta variant is a very different and more challenging virus than the original strain,” said Malcolm.
Minnesota Health officials announced 4 new deaths Wednesday, bringing the state’s total death toll to 7,660 since the pandemic began.
Point-by-Point Fall School Guidance
The Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education offered several guidance measures for students and staff returning to school this fall. The specific points covered in the guidance are:
- All people ages 12 years and older should get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to in-person school, sports, or other activities to protect themselves and people around them who cannot get vaccinated.
- All students, teachers, staff, and visitors in school buildings should wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status in order to protect those who cannot yet be vaccinated or who remain at higher risk because of immune-comprised status or other conditions.
- Schools should maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms whenever possible.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home if they have signs of any infectious illness, and should contact their health care provider for testing and care.
- Students, teachers, and staff who have been fully vaccinated do not need to stay home even if they have had recent close contact with a confirmed case so long as they remain asymptomatic and do not test positive. Follow CDC testing guidance for anyone exposed to a confirmed case.
- People who are not fully vaccinated and returning to in-person school, sports, or extracurricular activities (and their families) should get tested regularly for COVID-19 according to CDC guidance.
- Schools should continue to strengthen good ventilation, rapid and thorough contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, handwashing, respiratory etiquette, cleaning, and disinfection as important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.