Daily Coronavirus Briefing: MDH releases 2020-21 planning guide for schools, long term care visitation guidelines amended

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During the state’s regular COVID-19 briefing, public officials discussed newly-issued guidelines for both the 2020-2021 school year and visiting long-term care facilities during the pandemic.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and Department of Health (MDH) released guidelines Thursday directing school districts on how to plan for the upcoming school year.

MDE Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller said the department has asked districts to come up with three different contingency plans. Those plans are to be centered on scenarios that include distance learning, in-person learning and a hybrid.

“It is possible that next year, just like we saw this year, that schools may need to shift their educational delivery models mid-year based on what is best for public health and the health and safety of our students, their families and our school staff,” Mueller said.

"Ultimately, we know parents want to know, but we just don't know yet," Mueller added.

Educators said they're also discussing equity concerns with regard to technology, internet access and learning loss.

The deputy commissioner said that Minnesota has allocated federal money to help build upon needed distance learning materials for the upcoming school year.

"Our teachers are prepared for even more learning loss from spring, and maybe redoing spring work," she added.

School districts will also be asked to create a plan to address mental health needs for their students.

Republicans called the guidelines "clear as mud" adding the state's "inability to make a decision will hamper learning for students in the fall."

Health experts said watching to see what happens with COVID-19 over the next several weeks will help make more informed decisions.

"None of this is easy, and we don't know what will happen in the fall," Mueller said.

Mueller said MDE will announce its decision on how schools should move forward with the upcoming school year no later than the week of July 27th.

Long-term care visiting guidelines

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm announced new guidance in regards to visiting long-term care facilities.

"We understand the impacts of COVID-19 on long-term care residents and their families and we continue to be mindful of how the effects of isolation can have a very serious impact on the health and wellbeing of residents," Malcolm said.

Recently, the Department of Health issued guidance for window visits at long-term care facilities.

Malcolm announced the addition of guidelines for outdoor visits at those facilities. The commissioner said those guidelines go into effect immediately.

Community testing sites

According to Malcolm, nearly 7,000 tests have been done at community testing sites that were set up after the mass gatherings and protests that occurred following the death of George Floyd.

Malcolm said the department will also hold a mass testing event over the weekend in Mower County. The testing will be done at the Mower County Fairgrounds from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

During the briefing Wednesday, health officials spoke about a spike in cases in the southern Minnesota county.

Message to younger Minnesotans

MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann also took time to speak to younger Minnesotans after it was reported a 30-year-old with no underlying health conditions died from COVID-19.

Ehresmann said the department has received calls about large groups of teens and young adults gathering without social distancing and wearing masks.

"I really think that our teens and young adults are the generations that are going to make a real impact on our world, addressing environmental issues and racial justice issues, and I'd like to ask you consider the important roles you can play in making a difference in COVID-19 in Minnesota," she said. "We need that same level of engagement and dedication from you."

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