The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Minnesota jumped from 5 to 9 Wednesday to Thursday, and more testing continues to happen daily with the number expected to continue climbing as the pandemic progresses.
But while the University of Minnesota and its five campuses around the state have put a stop to all in-person classes, the Minnesota departments of health and education are not recommending schools close.
"The MDH is not recommending that schools close at this point in time," said MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehersmann, who cited a number of reasons for the direction, namely because people under the age of 19 are lower risk to catch the virus, along with other unintended consequences that come with shutting down a school.
Ehersman said only 2 percent of COVID-19 cases are for people under the age of 19, and there are no confirmed cases in school-age students in Minnesota.
Additionally, closing schools would mean interrupting the continuity of education, the risk of students going without food and nutrition, and other school services.
Furthermore, Ehresmann noted that a lot of Minnesota's vital healthcare workers have children in school, and shutting them could potentially put a strain on health services.
Saint Paul Public Schools is in the third day of a teacher strike, yet the district is providing free breakfast and lunch – and kid care services – at numerous school sites within the district while the union work stoppage is ongoing.
Schools should practice social distancing
As the pandemic continues, schools are encouraged to implement social distancing, which, in short, is keeping people as far away from each other as possible. Doing so is darn near impossible in overcrowded classrooms and school buses, but there are mitigation tactics the MDH is advising the Minnesota Department of Education to utilize, including:
- Limit large gatherings.
- Limit the number of people at assemblies.
- Reduce mixing by staggering the release of students to lunch and recess.
If feasible, schools should also consider regular health checks by taking temperatures of students, staff and visitors.
An exposure to the novel coronavirus is defined as any individual who is within 6-8 feet of an infected person for 10 or more minutes. To be clear, the MDH is not suggesting that keeping people 6+ feet apart is possible at all times in overcrowded classrooms and buses.
In addition, students who are medically fragile or have underlying health conditions should consider other plans for distance learning and e-learning if possible.
The Minnesota Department of Education will be sending guidelines and recommendations to school leaders within the next 24 hours.
In the event there is a COVID-19 case involving staff or a student, temporary closings would be recommended so cleaning can be done.
What about everyone else?
The bulk of an MDH conference call with reporters Monday was solely focused on how schools should be reacting as the coronavirus spreads, but Ehersmann did say that Minnesota is "leaning" into the middle phase of a pandemic response, which is a transition from the containment phase to community mitigation.
"We are now starting to move into the phase where we want to focus on community mitigation. We're moving into a phase where people's personal lives will likely be impacted," said Ehersmann. "We'll be making decisions that will affect all of our lives even if we are healthy."
For now, working from home and avoiding large gatherings along with proper hygiene is recommended for everyone. More specific restrictions could follow in coming days.
"We're going to be talking in the days ahead about different actions that will be important to take, and these are actions that will impact people's lives. The duration will likely not be short term," said Ehersmann. "The way that we need to deal with this is in a thoughtful and steady approach that may need to be in place for a while."
Essentially every sporting league, from high school to college and the pros, has suspended competition or restricted fans from attending events. The NHL, NBA, MLS, MLB, MSHSL, and NCAA are among the leagues that have taken action to help contain the epidemic.