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Minnesota health officials say schools should follow CDC mask guidance

The recommendations follow rising concerns around the Delta variant. You can listen to a live briefing by officials below.

ST PAUL, Minn. — A day after the CDC reversed its course on indoor masking, Minnesota health officials said Minnesota teachers, students and visitors should mask up in schools this fall - even if they're vaccinated. 

Officials from MDH and the state's Department of Education shared more information at a 2 p.m. briefing Wednesday. You can watch the briefing below.

These recommendations are no longer mandated, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) officials said in a Wednesday press release. Rather, the guidance is meant to "support local school boards and school leaders as they make decisions for the upcoming school year."

Other recommendations include 3-foot social distancing and vaccinations for those 12 years of age and older. 

Here are some of MDH's recommendations: 

  • Everyone 12 years and older should get vaccinated against COVID-19 before going back to in-person school and engaging in activities, including sports. 
  • All students, teachers, staff, and visitors in school buildings should wear masks indoors, even if they're fully vaccinated. 
  • Schools should keep at least 3 feet of distance between kids in the classroom "whenever possible." When this is impossible, MDH said other measures are especially important. 
  • Students, teachers and staff should stay home if they're showing signs of any infectious illness. 
  • Those who are fully vaccinated do not need to stay home after having close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, as long as they don't have symptoms and don't test positive. 
  • People fully vaccinated and returning to in-person school or activities should get tested for the virus regularly. 
  • Schools should "continue to strengthen" ventilation, contact tracing, handwashing, disinfection and other preventative measures. 

Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller said in-person learning is "critical" for students' education and mental health. 

“As we head back to school this fall, we must implement measures to protect the health and safety of all of our students, staff and families," Mueller said in the release. 

On the 2 p.m. call, Mueller said individual school districts could make their own mask mandates, but that such a mandate would not come from MDH or the Department of Education. 

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm cited some of the data trends behind the recommendation on the call - like a 9.3% hospitalization rate in Minnesota's new COVID-19 cases. She said that's double the rate in the original outbreak. 

A coalition of physicians groups made a statement supporting making masks mandatory when school resumes this fall. 

“In anticipation of the upcoming school year, the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA), together with the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, and the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, strongly support recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Minnesota Department of Health guidance that urges all students, teachers, staff, and visitors in K-12 school buildings to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status in order to protect those who cannot yet be vaccinated or who remain at higher risk because of immune-compromised status or other conditions," read a statement released by the coalition. "The MMA, MAFP, and MN-AAP urge all Minnesota school districts and private school leaders to adopt requirements consistent with this informed public health guidance and to encourage all eligible individuals to get vaccinated.”

Soon after MDH's announcement, House GOP Education Leads Rep. Ron Kresha and Rep. Sondra Erickson issued a statement in response. 

“These are decisions that should be made at the local level with the involvement of students and parents, and with no undue influence or pressure from the Minnesota Department of Education to implement these recommendations," the statement read. "Our parents, teachers, and local school districts have the experience and expertise necessary to make the decision that’s right for their schools, and we need to trust them to do so.”

MDH's recommendations follow concerns about rising case numbers involving the Delta variant, which health officials now estimate to account for a majority of Minnesota's new cases. Earlier in July, the CDC estimated that the Delta variant is behind around 83% of new cases in the U.S. It's thought to spread more easily than the original virus, and some studies indicate it results in more severe symptoms. 

On Tuesday, the CDC announced a course reversal in masking guidance -- it now recommends even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas where the virus is surging. That includes 14 Minnesota counties.

The masking recommendations have sparked a lot of reactions from parents. Dan Moen, who has a daughter in the Prior Lake schools, said "I'm actually fine with that. Especially for the kids who are under 12, who can't get vaccinated." His daughter then added: "Half of [students] don't even want to wear it, but I'm just like, put on the mask. It's fine. I don't really care."

Chrissy Olson, whose children attend a private school in Jordan, said: "I don't feel strongly one way or the other; it's whatever the school feels is best, is how we handle it."

Other parents are opposed to the universal masking recommendations.

"Kids going back to school shouldn't have masks on. It should just be back to full school," Brian Campbell said. "My concern is, what happens next year? If it's a bad flu season, get the masks out again?"