MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota public health officials say they are concerned about COVID-19 cases increasing among children as a school year begins with many back in the classroom.

Recent state data show last week, before many students had not yet returned, there were nearly 250 cases associated with schools and 176 of those were in kids. There were also more than 200 school buildings reporting cases for the two weeks ending Sept. 4, according to a weekly report from the health department.

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Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm during a call with reporters Thursday pointed to national numbers showing children have made up a quarter of all cases in the U.S. recently, largely due to more infectious Delta variant of the virus.

“We remain concerned about the growth of cases in school and childcare settings and the broader implications that has for more cases in those settings and community transmission,” Malcolm said.

Children across the country are returning to the classroom for the third school year in a pandemic. In Minnesota, mitigation strategies against the virus are district-by-district decisions — not all schools are requiring masks for students and staff.

(credit: CBS)

Sam Stinogel who lives in northeast Minneapolis said he didn’t think twice about sending his twin first graders back to the classroom this year after more than a year of distance learning that took its toll. But he was comforted by Minneapolis Public Schools’ decision to require masks. Without the mandate, he would have had reservations.

“The fact that we live in this neighborhood and in this school district, it makes it really easy,” Stinogel said. “I feel bad for those parents who have to make that decision.”

Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said that the department is starting to track COVID-19 protocols in each school district and would have more information to share within the next week.

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There’s no statewide requirement because Gov. Tim Walz doesn’t have that authority anymore with emergency powers. He said Wednesday it’s unlikely he would call a peacetime emergency again soon, since a block from the state legislature is all but certain.

“My hope is that there is enough pressure from parents, there is enough pressure from science,” Walz said.

The Minnesota Department of Health continues to recommend masking indoors regardless of vaccination status, especially in schools where kids under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Officials also are doubling down on their push for vaccinations.

A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that hospitalizations among children and adolescents were four times more likely in states with low vaccination rates compared to states with high vaccine intake.

“Masking reduces transmission against COVID. Period,” Malcolm said. “Your mask protects you and those around you.”

Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 27,000 cases of COVID-19 associated with school settings, according to state data.

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In addition to a mask mandate, St. Paul Public Schools recently passed a resolution requiring vaccination or regular testing for all school employees.

Caroline Cummings