Delta is surging as students get ready to go back to school. Here are 5 things to know

Kids wearing face masks sit at tables in a classroom.
Kindergartners, including Destin Saley (right), space out at tables during class Jan. 19 at Park Brook Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Updated: Sept. 3, 6:30 p.m. | Posted: Aug. 9, 9 a.m.

As students pick out backpacks and teachers set up their classroom spaces, here are five things health experts want you to know about going back to in-person classes in a pandemic. 

1) What health and safety guidelines should schools be following?

Minnesota schools are no longer under a mandate to require masking in their buildings. That’s because Gov. Tim Walz’s authority to issue this mandate expired now that Minnesota is no longer under a state of emergency

Instead, health officials recommend schools require masks in their buildings, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. Experts also recommend maintaining 3 feet of distance in buildings, staying home if sick and getting the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible. 

Schools are still required to report COVID-19 cases in their buildings to the state Health Department. 

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2) Follow these tips to protect yourself, your families and others 

In a recent presentation, Mayo Clinic physicians compared pandemic safety to safety on the road. Just like you layer protection in the car by wearing a seatbelt, following the speed limit and making sure you have properly working airbags, brakes and tires, you also want to layer protection against COVID-19 for both yourself and others. Physicians recommend these precautions:

  • Get the vaccine if you are eligible.

  • Wear a properly fitted mask at school, regardless of whether you have been vaccinated. 

  • Wash hands regularly.

  • Stay home if you’re sick.

  • Get tested for COVID-19 regularly — especially if you are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone with the virus.

  • Maintain social distancing of 3 feet at school.

Kids in a classroom sit at their desks and on the floor.
Students in Lisa Mathies' kindergarten students sit socially distanced in class at Wildwood Elementary in Stillwater, Minn., on Sept. 10, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

3) Does the delta variant affect children differently than previous iterations of the COVID-19 virus?

The symptoms doctors say to look out for are runny nose, congestion, sore throat, fever or gastrointestinal symptoms. But sometimes infected children show no symptoms.

Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, said it’s not yet clear whether the delta variant causes more severe symptoms in children. 

“The primary difference we know so far with the delta variant is just how much more easily it’s spread,” Rajapakse said. “We have not seen it really causing symptoms that are different from other variants in children, and they’re still trying to understand whether the severity in illness it causes is more or not.”

4) Masks may be required in your school

Check with your district. Many schools have already announced whether they will require students, staff and visitors to wear masks inside buildings. Schools are taking a variety of approaches to this.

Duluth, Minneapolis and Rochester were among the first Minnesota school districts to mandate masks for back to school so far.

5) What sort of mask should you get for your student?

The best sort of mask for a child is one that fits well and that they will actually wear. Properly fitted KN95 masks provide the best protection, but Dr. Greg Poland, a physician who studies immunology and vaccines at Mayo Clinic, says those masks can also be uncomfortable for kids. He recommends a properly fitted cloth mask with a filtering layer. 

“It depends on what kind of cloth mask, how many layers and whether there’s a filtering layer in there. So, one of the single cotton fabric masks you see people buy in the store that are gapped around their nose — I don’t think those are very effective at all.”