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Minnesota health leaders recommend masks at schools in fall

Albert Lea superintendent: No changes expected in district’s plans

By Albert Lea Tribune and Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Minnesota health officials are recommending, but not requiring, that all students, teachers and staff wear masks in schools this fall, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.

The recommendations are in line with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and come as the state is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant.

The Minnesota Department of Health is also recommending that everyone age 12 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to in-person schooling, sports or other activities.

House Republicans say masking and other decisions should be made at the local level, with no pressure from the state. GOP Education Leads Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said in a statement: “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.”

But the Department of Health says its recommendations reflect the current state of the pandemic and the importance of in-person learning. There is no longer a mandate for schools to follow the guidance, but health officials say these are the most up-to-date science-based practices to keep in-person learning safe.

“In-person learning is critical, not only when it comes to academics, but also for our students’ social-emotional well-being and mental health,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller said in a statement. “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.”

Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk said Wednesday no changes were expected in the district’s plans for the fall.

The school district announced earlier this month it would recommend, but not require, masks for staff and students not fully vaccinated during the upcoming school year.

The district stated it will follow guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health for unvaccinated individuals exposed to a person who has tested positive. Currently, that means a quarantine for seven days with a negative COVID-19 PCR test or 10 days without a test.

People who are fully vaccinated will not need to quarantine.