University of Minnesota Expert's Take on Reopening Schools During a Pandemic

With many schools starting to reopen to in-person students, starting with the younger children, in the upcoming week, viewpoints have been voiced surrounding COVID-19 prevention measures in schools and the safety of classrooms. Though many schools are placing social distancing measures, making in-person school optional, and are using hybrid modalities of learning to limit the number of students in the classrooms at the same time, many are still worried that these measures aren’t enough to protect students and staff. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has asked their district to delay reopening until teachers have the opportunity to get vaccinated and more detailed plans are in place regarding caps on class sizes and social distancing measures.

Beth Thielen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, weighed in on the conversation, citing a research study conducted in Wisconsin on the safety of in-person schooling when proper protocols are followed. In late 2020, Wisconsin had one of the highest positive infection rates in the country, though data from this article showed that in-school transmission was low and the majority of cases were from community spread. Dr. Thielen uses this article to state that it is not whether or not the schools should reopen, but how they can safely reopen. Though this research was conducted in a rural setting, researchers aren’t yet sure if this data can be applied to urban communities, though the general consensus is that if the proper guidelines are followed, the benefits of getting children back in schools could outweigh the risk of in-school transmission as mitigation measures have been shown to work. To read more about the conversation surrounding K-12 schools opening and Dr. Thielen’s statement, please follow this link.