MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Over the past two weeks, some schools have announced their decisions on whether schools should require masks this fall. Others are still debating their choices. In many places, it’s been an emotional process.

So, what do we know about COVID and schools? Good Question.

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“The biggest lesson we learned was that it’s important for kids to be in schools,” said Mary Jo Martin.

Martin said the district’s mantra of the four Ws – watch your distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, when sick stay home — made a difference when it came to transmission in Hopkins schools. Of the 75 staff and 250 students (both distance and in-person) who tested positive last school year, the district found only once were there two positive cases in one classroom.

“We think just about all of it was community,” Martin said.

At nearby Robbinsdale Schools, there were 246 student cases and 144 staff cases during last school year. According to a district spokesperson, the district doesn’t have data on student-to-student transmission, which would make it impossible to confirm the source point.

Across Minnesota, more than 9,000 staff members and nearly 18,000 students tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. The state identified more than 905 outbreaks, which are defined as five or more cases over two weeks in one school.

“We have to acknowledge that is much lower than what we would see with Delta circulating,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Ehresmann said the COVID situation going into this school year has positive and negative sides.

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What’s better? More people have been vaccinated. Forty-six percent of 12- to 15-year-olds in Minnesota have been vaccinated and 55% of 16- and 17-year-olds. The state of Minnesota doesn’t collect data on how many teachers or staff have been vaccinated, but Hopkins said 85% of its staff is vaccinated.

“We surround those fully vaccinated with other strategies,” said Martin.

What’s worse: The Delta variant is far more transmissible than what schools saw last year. Health officials are unsure what a vaccination rate of about 50% of teenagers would mean for transmission in schools.

The state of Minnesota has several recommendations for schools with vaccination at the top of the list. It also recommends, among other things, contact tracing, isolation of cases, pods, handwashing and universal masking.

“We’re continuing to learn about the Delta variant and which strategies would be most effective, but we know that masking is effective,” said Ehresmann.

She pointed to a study from Duke University where researchers collected data from more than one million students and staff in North Carolina.

“All of it says the same thing. With masking in place, the secondary attack rate is really, really low,” said Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University.

Martin’s Hopkins COVID response team is recommending universal masking for this school year. The Hopkins School Board will vote on that recommendation on Tuesday.

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“I hope we can bring all of our student back to in-person learning and hopefully keep everyone safe and see what happens,” Martin said. “We have our community’s best interest in mind and we’re doing the best we can.”

Heather Brown