6th Minnesota school staff member dies of COVID-19, total cases top 21K in school settings

A sixth Minnesota school staff member has died from a COVID-19 infection linked to schools. Meanwhile, the total number of cases of students and staff has surpassed 21,000, according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health.

"Three school staff members have now died since late February of a COVID-19 infection associated with schools," said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. "This is a tragic reminder that the pandemic isn’t over. Schools must continue protecting their staff and students."

The Minnesota Department of Education announced a new program Thursday to supply districts and youth sports organizations with free tests for the strain of the virus that causes COVID-19. State officials are recommending weekly testing for athletes and biweekly testing for all students.

MDH officials urge regular COVID-19 testing for students, athletes

"Everyone in our school communities — students, parents and staff — shares in the responsibility to keep each other safe," Specht said. "Please get vaccinated when you can, take precautions outside your school buildings, get tested frequently and quarantine when necessary."

The state health department reported the largest week-to-week increase in school-related cases of 2021 on Thursday, with 1,461 new cases. The increase was driven by 1,258 new student cases. MDH says 977 school buildings reported at least one case. The numbers reflect the spread of the virus in all Minnesota schools — public, private and tribal.

The number of cases in Minnesota schools is approaching the same levels reached in November, when many districts switched to district learning. However, adult educators, who are more likely to become seriously ill, are a much smaller share of cases this spring, according to Education Minnesota.

"We know the pain of this pandemic hasn’t been felt equally. Years of systemic racism in health care and our economy made our neighbors in communities of color especially vulnerable," Specht said. "But it is up to all of us — white, Black and brown — to come together and protect the public schools that serve every student, everywhere."

The weekly report shows 11 more staff members and students have been hospitalized, bringing the total to 184 since the pandemic began. MDH did not release details about the latest death involving a school staff member.