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MDH: COVID-19 case linked to graduation serves as warning

The Minnesota Department of Health is warning schools about disregarding graduation rules.

ST PAUL, Minn. — As the state eases restrictions on outdoor dining and camping, the Minnesota Department of Health is warning schools across the state that its ban on in-person graduation ceremonies remains in place. Leaders are also offering a warning about what can happen if schools disregard the guidance.

“This week we’ve seen an example of a positive case associated with the setup for a ceremony," said Kris Ehresmann, Director of the MDH Infectious Disease Division. "An individual helping to set up was in close contact with several other staff members over the course of a few hours to prepare a stage where a graduation ceremony was to take place.”

Ehresmann would not specify the specific school, location or size of the ceremony the staff members were setting up for. She says the person who tested positive for the coronavirus began experiencing symptoms after the stage setup and did not attend the ceremony. However, two people they had contact with, helped facilitate the graduation.

“And the ceremony did involve individuals walking up to receive the diploma," Ehresmann said. “Those two individuals did not yet know that they had been exposed, and so were not in quarantine. This is just another example of another risk for transmission to a much larger population if procedures are not followed.”

Ehresmann says they are still awaiting information on the two adults who were exposed and part of the ceremony. MDH cannot say whether they have been tested or are positive for the virus.

When KARE 11 asked whether students or their families who attended the ceremony have been contacted, an MDH spokesperson replied in an email: "Students would be contacts of contacts, so there would not be notification to those families at this time. That said, we provided this example as a reminder of how quickly the chain of transmission has the potential to expand during these kinds of large gatherings."

Though the state has been easing restrictions on some outdoor gatherings, Ehresmann says socially distanced, outdoor graduations are still considered too risky because they involve many households and are more uncertain than most other activities.

“Graduations are emotional events that can come with unpredictable social behavior," Ehresmann said. “As we have seen with those who have attempted in-person ceremonies, even the best laid plans cannot account for the human reaction of students rushing to hug classmates they have not seen in a long time.”

For now, she wants schools to remember the state guidelines.

"The safest way to observe graduation is for everyone to stay home. Indoor graduations and ceremonies held in outside stadiums and football fields of any size are not considered safe and are not permitted," she said. “If your school is considering a ceremony outside of the home, such as a car parade or a parking lot ceremony, attendees need to remain in their cars for the entire ceremony.”

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.