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36 people test positive in Albert Lea schools during first week of class, hundreds in quarantine

The district is updating its COVID-19 safety policies after nearly 300 students had to quarantine this week.

ALBERT LEA, Minn. — Editors note: The above video originally aired on KARE 11 on Aug. 24, 2021.

Just five days into the new year, Albert Lea Area Schools is reporting dozens of positive COVID cases among individuals in the district.

According to a letter to parents from Superintendent Dr. Mike Funk, 36 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 290 students are currently quarantined from exposure to the virus following a "large virus spread within our community."

In the letter, Dr. Funk said it took the district until early October in 2021 to get close to this number of cases.

The district initially started the year with daily screenings and thermal scans as part of its COVID safety precautions, and masking was recommended.

Starting Aug. 30, the district will make the following changes:

Grades K-5

  • Students won't be required to wear masks, except on buses
  • Students who test positive for COVID will have to quarantine out of school for 10 days
  • If a positive case is identified, students considered to be a close contact to a classmate will be sent home along with their entire class
  • Close contacts will stay home for 24 hours while rooms are disinfected and teachers will send students their assignments
  • If close contacts do not have symptoms and are waiting for results, parents can chose to send them back to school with a mask. Those students will be cohorted together in their classroom
  • Those students will have to wear face masks and be separated during the quarantine period

Parents can also chose to keep their students home during quarantine.

Classrooms currently in quarantine can resume in-person instruction on Aug. 30.

Grades 6-12

Because the level of COVID activity is higher among secondary school students, starting Monday the district will require all students wear face coverings during the school day through the end of first quarter on Oct. 20.

  • Students won't be subject to quarantine unless they have symptoms because of the new mask requirement
  • Students currently quarantined from an in-school exposure with no symptoms and aren't waiting for test results can return to school on Aug. 30
  • Student athletes playing indoor sports have to wear masks while not actively playing, and fans will have to wear masks
  • Those playing outdoor sports don't have to wear masks and neither will fans
  • Masks will be required at indoor concerts
  • Vaccinated students with no symptoms won't be subject to quarantine

Currently, the district isn't requiring vaccines for students or staff, but "strongly" encourages families to consider vaccinating students over the age of 12.

The letter to parents also explains that masks aren't required for teachers, but district is "strongly recommending that staff who are working with masked students lead by example, and mask up for their students."

RELATED: LIST: Mask policies in Minnesota public schools

Over the weekend, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that 50% of the state's 12 to 15-year-olds have started the COVID-19 vaccination process.

Still, the highly contagious delta variant has lots of parents worried about what could happen as more students return to in-person learning.

“There’s no way around it,” said Minnesota Department of Health infectious disease director, Kris Ehresmann. “If a child tests positive, they are a positive case. They do need to go home to isolate and that means that we would recommend quarantine for their close contacts.” 

Health officials say fully vaccinated parents, teachers and staff facing exposure should continue to follow CDC guidelines – which recommends getting tested. If you don't have symptoms, fully vaccinated close contacts don't need to quarantine at home following an exposure, but should wear a mask in indoor public settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.

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