A graduation ceremony that took place in Minnesota went against the state's guidance for safety during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and one person involved with set-up of the ceremony unknowingly had COVID-19.
"This week we've seen an example of a positive case associated with a set-up for a ceremony. An individual helping to set up was in close contact with several other staff members over the course of a few hours to prepare a stage where a graduation ceremony was to take place," said Kris Ehresmann, epidemiologist and director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
Ehresmann didn't say disclose where the graduation took place, nor did she divulge if the ceremony was for senior students or younger grades.
"While the ill individual did not participate in the ceremony itself, the two individuals with whom they had contact did facilitate the ceremony, and the ceremony did involve individuals walking up to receive their diploma," she continued.
"Those two did not know they had been exposed and weren't in quarantine," Ehresmann added. "This is an example of another risk of transmission to a much larger population if procedures are not followed."
It is yet to be determined if the infected person transmitted the disease to anyone else, and if so, how far its since spread remains unknown. MDH officials say they are assessing the situation and doing follow-up work.
The MDH and Gov. Tim Walz have made clear that schools will have to get creative to properly celebrate the graduating Class of 2020 since gatherings of more than 10 people are banned under the Stay Safe MN order.
"The safest way to observe graduation is for everyone to stay home. Indoor graduations and ceremonies held in outside stadiums and football fields of any size are not considered safe and are not permitted," Ehresmann said.
"Graduations are emotional events that can come with unpredictable social behavior. As we have seen with attempted in-person ceremonies, even the best laid plans cannot account for the human reaction of students rushing to hug classmates who they have not seen in a long time."
Department of Education guidance for graduation
If your school is considering hosting a graduation/commencement ceremony or other celebration outside of the home (e.g., car parade, parking lot ceremony) please:
- Remember the safest option right now is for everyone to stay home.
- Consider whether having an event encourages people in high-risk groups (particularly older adults and people with underlying health conditions) or ill individuals to come out rather than stay at home. People may come out because of their desire to celebrate this significant milestone and not wanting to be “left out.”
- Consider what accommodations need to be made to ensure equitable participation (e.g., students and families without access to a vehicle).
If your school decides to host a graduation/commencement ceremony or other celebration outside of the home (e.g., car parade, parking lot ceremony): Each household should be in a separate car; carpooling does not comply with social distancing.
- Make it clear that people with COVID-19 symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath, etc.) should not attend – no matter what.
- Attendees should remain in their individual cars.
- If attendees are in cars with the windows up for the entirety of the ceremony, cars may park immediately adjacent to one another.
- If attendees are in cars with windows down, cars should park 6 feet apart.
- Provide clear messaging that individuals may not walk to the ceremony or participate outside of vehicles.
- Create a traffic flow plan for how vehicles enter and exit the event.
- Make the event brief.
- Do not serve food or beverages at the event.
- There should not be passing of objects or physical contact between households.
- Graduation caps should not be thrown in the air outside as this may encourage attendees to leave the vehicle.
- Do not provide public or portable bathrooms; this creates a risk of transmission.
- Limit the number of speakers to the smallest number possible and ensure they avoid close contact (e.g., within 6 feet) of others. Speakers should not congregate, and should return to their vehicles following presentations.
- Whenever possible, use individual microphones if multiple speakers will participate. If a microphone must be shared, consider cleaning between speakers or leaving it untouched on a stand.
- Partner with local public safety officials.
If your school decides to distribute materials (e.g., diplomas, cap and gown) via delivery or pick-up:
- Practice contactless delivery or pick-up whenever possible, with staff wearing cloth face coverings and gloves (work gloves are permissible).
- In curbside pick-up, social distancing guidelines apply. Individuals picking up materials should wear cloth face coverings and should not leave their car whenever possible.
- In delivery, items should be deposited outside an individual’s residence.
- Develop clear signage and communication between staff distributing and individuals receiving materials.
- If payment is required, contact-less payment should be used in every possible scenario; if money is exchanged, the participants must use gloves.