MINNEAPOLIS — Editor's Note: The above story first aired Sept. 23, 2021
New numbers released by the Minnesota Department of Health show a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among school-age kids, with 232 schools statewide now reporting at least five over more confirmed cases in the past two-week cycle.
This week's total is more than double the number from a week ago when 95 Minnesota schools were reporting five or more confirmed cases.
In all, more than 1,000 schools are now reporting at least one case of COVID-19 in the latest period. Two staff members have also died from the virus in the first weeks of the school year, according to MDH.
In a joint statement, MDH and the Minnesota Department of Education say they're assisting local districts, but no longer have the authority to issue mandates:
MDE and MDH stand ready to support schools as they navigate this school year. With the end of the peacetime emergency on July 1, the executive orders (including the Safe Learning Plan) are no longer in effect. This means that health and safety decisions are made at the local level and we do not have the authority to step in with mandates at this time. Over the summer, the Minnesota Department of Health issued best practice recommendations to support school leaders and school boards in designing plans to protect the health and safety of students, staff and families. We have communicated that schools should implement policies such as universal masking, social distancing, contact tracing, quarantining and other practices outlined in the MDH guidance in order to protect the health and safety of students, staff and families. MDE and MDH have also provided schools with COVID-19 testing resources and funding to support these efforts.
Beth Clymer, a teacher in the White Bear Lake district at Lakeaires Elementary, said she has not experienced any outbreaks at her school -- although both the north and south campuses at the high school in her district are listed among the 232 Minnesota schools with five or more cases. At the elementary level, masks are required because students aren't old enough to get vaccinated.
"I believe that was part of the intent in having everyone mask up," Clymer said. "If a student does get COVID, at least if everyone is wearing masks, we don't all have to quarantine."
Clymer said she hopes in-person learning can continue, particularly from a social and emotional intelligence standpoint.
"Especially with the younger kids -- just, teaching them how to be friends with people and how to handle conflict," Clymer said. "They've missed out on some of that for quite a while."