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As school sets to return, Mayo Clinic expert says get vaccinated or get COVID-19

Most kids in Minnesota will head back for in-person learning within a few weeks.

The delta variant of the coronavirus is so contagious that a specialist from the Mayo Clinic says kids who aren't vaccinated stand a good chance to contract COVID-19. 

The stark warning comes from Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Mayo Clinic Children's Center. She was asked why kids who are 12 and over should get the vaccine before returning to school for in-person learning. 

"We do want kids to return to school, we know all the benefits of going to school. But right now, with what's going on in our country and in our communities with delta variant spread, you're really making a choice between getting vaccinated or getting COVID-19. This delta variant is just that contagious," Dr. Rajapakse said

Kids under the age of 12 can't yet receive the vaccine, which is why Rajapakse and other health experts are urging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated to help protect those children. 

"The most important thing we can do to protect kids under 12 years of age who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated themselves is to ensure that as many people who are around them and who are interacting with them are vaccinated," Dr. Rajapakse said. "Anyone over 12 years of age should be getting their vaccine, both to protect themselves, but also to protect people who are not yet eligible, such as children under 12 years of age."

The CDC changed its guidance last month to encourage everyone over the age of 2 to wear a mask in schools, regardless of vaccination status. It's up to each district in Minnesota to enforce mask mandates because Gov. Tim Walz relinquished his peacetime emergency powers earlier this summer.

Minneapolis Public Schools will mandate masks when students return; Rochester Public Schools is mandating masks for children ages 2-12; St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard will introduce a resolution requiring masks for all children ages 2 and older, staff and visitors during Tuesday's board meeting. The resolution will then be voted on during next week's board meeting. 

Of Minnesota's approximately 5.7 million residents, 57.5% have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 54.3% have completed the vaccine series, according to the state health department

Statewide, 44% of kids ages 12-16 have had at least one shot, compared to 54% of kids aged 16-17, according to the data. 

The nation's top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, believes vaccine mandates are now necessary to help stop the delta variant, with the issue becoming more urgent as kids are set to return to classrooms. 

“The time has come,” said Fauci, speaking as a guest on NBC's Meet the Press. “We’ve got to go the extra step to get people vaccinated. You want to persuade them, that’s good … but for those who do not want, I believe mandates at the local level need to be done.”

Coronavirus cases rose 40% in the U.S. in the past week, while COVID-19 hospitalizations jumped 36% over the same period. 

The push comes as coronavirus cases in the United States rose 40 percent in the past week, while covid-related hospitalizations rose 36 percent in the same period, the Washington Post reports

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