Minnesota Department of Health not recommending to close K-12 schools

While many colleges, sports leagues, and public venues are shutting down their activities over concerns for the COVID-19 coronavirus, public health officials aren't calling on schools to close down just yet.

In Minnesota, there have been nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 but the spread of the virus across the United States has government leaders taking steps to stop the spread of the virus. But, as colleges move classes online, the Minnesota Department of Health has no plans to cancel classes for primary and high school students.

Speaking with members of the media on Thursday, MDH officials say the virus presents less risk to children and closing schools could create unintended disruption.

"In general, individuals 19 and under are at the very lowest risk of COVID-19," explained Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresman. "Only two percent of overall cases have occurred in this age group."

Health officials worry closing schools could result in some students losing access to basic nutrition and other valuable resources available at schools. They also want to avoid disrupting the continuity of education for students.

However, the MDH says there are steps schools can take to prevent the virus from spreading between students and making its way back home. First, they are recommending everyone, students and adults, take efforts to social distance -- or simply putting buffer zones between you and other people.

"We’ve talked about the six-foot range," explained Ehresman. "If you’re closer than six feet for longer than ten minutes, that’s an exposure."

"Our goal is to minimize the times when our people are closer than six feet," she added. "And so, because of that, we’re asking schools to reduce the frequency of large gatherings. In other words, assemblies. And limit the number of attendees per gathering."

MDH is also recommending schools consider additional efforts, like staggering start times or entry points to limit interaction between students. Health officials do say that students with underlying health problems or who are medically fragile should consider long-distance learning options.