ST PAUL, Minn — New weekly guidance released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows some level of distance learning is now recommended in all but five of Minnesota's 87 counties, with COVID-19 case rates holding steady or rising across much of the state.
According to the latest data, only Cook, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, and Pennington counties have COVID-19 case rates low enough for the state to recommend full in-person learning in schools. All five counties are in northern Minnesota.
Nine Minnesota counties currently fall under the state's recommendations for full distance learning: Big Stone, Blue Earth, Lac Qui Parle, Lincoln, Pine, Redwood, Swift, Waseca and Yellow Medicine.
The guidance is based on data reflecting COVID-19 case rates per 10,000 people from Sept. 13 to Sept. 26. Waseca County had the highest rate in the state in that period, with 162.16 cases per 10,000 residents, marking the fifth straight week with a rate of 50 or higher.
State officials have emphasized that this case data alone does not automatically determine the learning plan or any changes for a particular county or school district; the data is meant to be used as guidance in each district or school's decision-making process.
Hover over a county in the map below to see its current learning recommendation based on the MDH data:
According to the state's Safe Learning Plan, the county case data leads to five recommended learning models:
- 0-9 cases per 10,000: In-person learning for all students
- 10-19 cases per 10,000: In-person learning for elementary students, hybrid learning for secondary students
- 20-29 cases per 10,000: Hybrid learning for all students
- 30-49 cases per 10,000: Hybrid learning for elementary students, distance learning for secondary students
- 50 or more cases per 10,000: Distance learning for all students
In the metro area, Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Scott and Washington counties fall under recommendations for a hybrid learning model. Carver and Ramsey counties were under the recommendations for in-person learning in elementary schools and hybrid learning for secondary students.
The latest data marks a sharp contrast from the first round of recommended learning model data released in early August, which showed COVID-19 case rates low enough for full in-person learning in more than half (48) of the state's 87 counties.
Also on Thursday, MDH added four more schools to its list of school buildings with five or more confirmed COVID cases:
- Horizon Middle School, Moorhead
- Grand Rapids Senior High, Grand Rapids
- Roosevelt Elementary, Willmar
- Rocori Senior High, Cold Spring
Those schools are in addition to the 7 buildings listed last week:
- Brainerd Senior High School, Brainerd
- Albert Lea Senior High School, Albert Lea
- Isanti Middle School, Isanti
- Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School, Fairmont
- Martin Luther High School, Northrop
- St. Paul Lutheran School , Fairmont
- Hinckley Elementary, Hinckley
MDH said it will remove schools from the list once no new cases have been reported for 28 days. Health officials have also emphasized that even though a school is on the list, it doesn't mean the COVID cases originated there, or that the schools have ongoing transmission.