COVID-19 transmission rate among teachers is less than 1%, Walz says

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    Gov. Tim Walz on Friday said the COVID-19 transmission rate among educators who have returned to the classroom is less than 1%, potentially bolstering plans to return even more students to in-person classes. 

    About 85% of K-8 classes were in person at least part-time as of Feb. 11, up from about a quarter in December, according to a press release from Walz’s office. Almost all school districts have signed up for the state’s COVID-19 educator testing program, which offers free on-site saliva tests to all teachers every two weeks.

    The news of a transmission rate that is 0.37% comes as Walz and the Minnesota Department of Education face increasing pressure to bring more students back to school.

    Elementary schools were allowed to bring students back to class full-time in January, regardless of COVID-19 case rates; middle and elementary schools can use distance learning, in-person classes or a mix of the two based on the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

    Distance learning, social isolation and other pandemic stressors have had disastrous effects on many students and families. Growing research suggests that schools don’t cause significant COVID-19 spread when community transmission is already low and adequate safety measures are taken. Teachers’ unions and some families, however, say they’re not convinced schools can implement the necessary precautions.

    After bringing elementary students back to class in January, some districts have had to temporarily halt in-person instruction because of outbreaks. Bloomington Public Schools abruptly switched back to distance learning in January, less than two weeks after reopening because of an outbreak among bus drivers and transportation staff. A Stillwater elementary school shut down for two weeks in February when more than 90 staff and students had to quarantine. 

    More than 45,000 Minnesota teachers, school staff and child care workers have been vaccinated since the state expanded its vaccination program in mid-January, according to the release. There are roughly 250,000 workers in that group.

    Rilyn Eischens
    Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.