MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Health and education officials in Minnesota are recommending that all students, teachers, staff and visitors wear masks when indoors at school this fall, even those who are vaccinated.
The mask guidance is one of several recommendations issued by the Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Education Wednesday.
Officials also recommend students within classrooms have at least three feet of physical distance between them.
Everyone 12 and older is encouraged to get vaccinated before returning to school or any other in-person activities, such as sports. The departments jointly said anyone with signs of infectious illness should stay home, but those who are vaccinated do not need to stay home solely because of close contact with a confirmed case as long as they are asymptomatic and do not test positive.
Unvaccinated people should get tested regularly, the guidance says.
“In the last week we have reported just under 2,800 new cases, a 72% increase over the week prior,” health commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “If you get vaccinated … your risk of getting critically ill from COVID is over eight times lower, and your risk of being hospitalized or death is 25 times lower.”
Because Gov. Tim Walz no longer has emergency powers, these are only guidelines. There will be no mask mandate, but individual school districts can decide if they want to make masks a requirement.
Minneapolis Public Schools say they’re developing plans for fall that will be announced shortly.
In Scott County, WCCO spoke with parents and students who shared a wide range of opinions. Toni Graham and Pam Rohrbacher both said they don’t think children should have to wear masks in class. Parent Moni Karimi disagrees, and her fourth-grade daughter shared her feelings.
“Honestly, I don’t really like it, but if that is what the government requires, then I do it for our safety,” Aryana Karima said.
Less than half of 16- and 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated in Minnesota. That figure drops to 34% among those ages 12 to 15.
The Centers for Disease Control updated its mask guidelines Tuesday to say that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask indoors where the chance of COVID-19 spread is substantial, including in schools. Officials in Minnesota said their latest recommendations follow the CDC.
“In-person learning is critical, not only when it comes to academics, but also for our students’ social-emotional well-being and mental health,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller in a release. “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.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, with the CDC, says new data shows even vaccinated people could end up being a threat to others. The agency now says even people who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors in areas of high covid transmission. That applies to more than 63% of all counties in America. In Minnesota, that applies to 14 counties, although most of Minnesota has at least a moderate risk.
During the afternoon call, Mueller and health commissioner Jan Malcolm both stressed the importance of vaccines in fighting transmission of the virus.
“We are in a much better place than we were last year thanks to the millions of Minnesotans who have stepped up to get vaccinated,” Malcolm said.
“Vaccines give us the very best possible opportunity of making sure that our students have the school year that they deserve,” Mueller said.