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As MDH re-iterates back-to-school COVID guidance, Osterholm urges parents to buy high-quality masks

Dr. Michael Osterholm is worried that some districts aren't properly prepared.

More and more school districts in Minnesota are enacting mask mandates for students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, but the state health department wants people to understand that a mask is just one of many important layers of protection against COVID-19. 

"The most important layer is vaccinations for all those eligible," a spokesperson from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said Monday.

"Other layers that help reduce risk include masking, social distancing, frequent testing as recommended, and staying home when you have any symptoms of COVID-19 or when you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19. We need to be using all these prevention measures if we want to get the school year off to a healthy and successful start."

Minnesota has gone a step ahead of the federal guidance by offering districts testing supplies that students and staff can use on a regular basis inside their school. The MDH is urging all students and staff to get tested at least once a week during the school year, and even more frequently if participating in athletics or extracurricular activities.  

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's back-to-school guidelines

  • Students ages 12+ should get vaccinated, as should staff. 
  • Universal masking, regardless of vaccination status. 
  • 3 feet of physical distancing when possible. 
  • Health screenings and regular testing. 
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Monitor local community transmission. 

University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm has been critical of the CDC's guidelines, specifically the social distancing and masking advice. 

"To think that you can stop a virus like this now, being three feet apart from somebody, is beyond pixie dust wishful thinking," Osterholm said last week on his podcast, the Osterholm Update

Related: List of metro schools with, without and pending mask policies

Osterholm has clamored for federal and local authorities to recommend high quality masks, namely the N95 and K95 masks that offer more protection than cloth and paper masks/face coverings. 

Speaking from a nationwide perspective, Osterholm says schools need to establish better ventilation, extensive testing (which Minnesota has) and encourage or provide students with the best masks possible. 

Asked about Osterholm's criticism of the CDC's guidance, a spokesperson from MDH agreed that "some materials and masks may provide enhanced protection." 

"However, the most important thing is to have a mask that is fitted well to your face (over your mouth and nose with no gaps) and to wear it consistently," the spokesperson added. 

"Remember that your mask isn’t just about protecting you. It’s about reducing the spread for you AND those around you." 

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