Minnesota Department of Health officials are asking schools across the state to take measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, though they say they're not recommending canceling classes.
MDH says these guidelines are part of the process of moving into the "community mitigation" phase of their response to COVID-19.
Kris Ehresmann, Director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health, defines community mitigation as "activities that we do as a community, decisions that are made to minimize spread of disease and protect those in our community who are most vulnerable."
Schools will play an important role in slowing or eliminating the coronavirus, but officials are not recommending that schools be closed. Ehresmann said people under the age of 19 are at the lowest risk of COVID-19. Health officials cited that only 2% of overall cases have occurred in this age group.
Despite the lower impact the disease has on younger people, officials are recommending a number of actions for schools to take in order to help with community mitigation.
Schools are being asked to implement "social distancing," which means:
- Reducing frequency of assemblies and limiting number of attendees
- Altering schedules to reduce mixing (e.g. staggering recess, entry and dismissal)
- Limiting interschool interactions
- Considering distance or elearning in some settings, for high-risk students
- Considering regular health checks if feasible
If there is a case with a student or a staff member, early dismissal from school or extracurricular activities may need to be implemented for a short time, according to Ehresmann.
Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller said they will work with school districts and charter schools to develop more specific recommendations on how to implement these changes.
MDH is encouraging Minnesotans more broadly to prepare for community mitigation that may impact all of our lives, including those who are healthy.
They said they are moving toward community mitigation measures that could last "a while," and would affect people who are healthy and not just high-risk populations or those who are sick.
For now, MDH is recommending that people who are sick stay home, and that those who are high-risk do not attend large gatherings. They are also issuing guidance to businesses to allow telework if possible.
On Thursday evening, Minneapolis Public Schools announced the cancellation of some after-school activities due to coronavirus concerns, including plays, concerts and assemblies. Athletics are determined by the state high school league, not the district.
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Below, a leading infectious disease expert at the U of M talks with Kent Erdahl to put everything in perspective.