Vaccinated or not, state health officials suggest mask wearing for those in school settings |

Vaccinated or not, state health officials suggest mask wearing for those in school settings

In this file photo, a student wears a face mask while doing work at his desk. Photo: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File. In this file photo, a student wears a face mask while doing work at his desk.

Tommy Wiita
Updated: July 28, 2021 10:40 PM
Created: July 28, 2021 01:27 PM

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is recommending the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) school COVID-19 guidance for this upcoming fall season. 

The recommendation is due to concerns about an uptick in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant. According to MDH, these best practice recommendations reflect the current state of the pandemic as well as the importance of in-person learning. 

The guidance document highlights CDC best practice recommendations for implementing layered prevention strategies, using multiple prevention strategies together consistently, to protect people who are not fully vaccinated. The following are specific points covered in the guidance:

  • All people ages 12 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 three 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. 

MDH says while there are no longer mandates that schools follow this guidance, it does represent the most current science-based best practices for safe, in-person learning. The recommendations are designed to support local school boards and school leaders as they make decisions for the upcoming school year and help Minnesota students get back in the classroom safely. 

"We are strongly encouraging school districts to follow a layered approach to COVID safety protocols based on recently released guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "And, those guidelines will help Minnesotans, and Minnesota students, get back into the classroom and stay there."

"In-person learning is critical, not only when it comes to academics, but also for our students' social-emotional well-being and mental health," Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller added. "As we head back to school this fall, we must implement measures to protect the health and safety of all of our students, staff and families."

State health and education officials explained these preventative measures are recommendations, not rules.

At this point, state leaders said issuing a mask mandate is up to each district. 

“Not only will they [the district] be making a decision about masks or no masks, they will also be making the decisions about what that means for students or families who do not want to wear a mask if they have a masking policy,” Mueller said. 

Mueller said MDE supports the CDC and MDH recommendations that everyone working, learning or visiting inside school buildings wear masks and also supports the guidelines for vaccinations and that MDE will offer support to the individual school districts as they determine their own COVID safety protocol needs.

Proactive COVID-19 prevention strategies remain critical to protect people — including students, teachers, and staff — who are not fully vaccinated or who have certain medical conditions, especially in areas of moderate-to-high community transmission levels. According to Malcolm, the basic tools for fighting COVID-19 remain the same, even as the virus itself has evolved into new variants that spread more easily from person to person and make containment more challenging.

"Vaccination, masking, and physical distancing remain our best public health prevention strategies for slowing the spread of COVID-19," Malcolm said. "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, and follow the CDC's guidance for continued masking, distancing and other prevention strategies to help avoid the widespread illnesses and community impacts we saw during the last school year."

Education and health officials emphasized that Minnesotans 12 years of age and older should get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to in-person school, sports, or other extracurricular activities.

Mueller said school districts will not be required to submit their plans to the state.

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