State urges college students to stay home

Published 7:01 am Sunday, August 16, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS — As students prepare to return to Minnesota’s colleges and universities, health officials made a plea Friday for them to stay home and avoid crowded bars, house parties and road trips during what’s left of their summer vacation so that they don’t bring the coronavirus to campus.

“Lay low before you go,” said Kris Ehresmann, the infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health. The choices that students make on whether to follow social distancing and masking guidance could have “a dramatic impact” on whether their college or university is able to continue offering in-person classes amid the pandemic this fall, she said.

“The bottom line is students will really decide how successful this is,” Ehresmann said in a briefing for reporters. “And students will decide whether or not they have to close down and send everybody home again.”

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The department has posted new guidance on its website urging college and university students to interact only with the people they live with for at least 14 days before they return to school to ensure that they don’t spread the COVID-19 virus to their classmates if they’ve been exposed to it and don’t know it. The department already issued guidance to schools to try to minimize transmission once students return. The new advice also applies to high school students.

The department started to see outbreaks this summer associated with bars popular with college-age people in Mankato, Minneapolis, Duluth, Bemidji and St. Cloud, but Ehresmann said there’s no specific city or campus that health officials are worried about. If students must get together, she said, they should meet outdoors and stay 6 feet apart. She acknowledged that will get harder as the weather gets colder.

It’s still “challenging” to tell whether Gov. Tim Walz’s statewide mask mandate is slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Minnesota, Ehresmann said. The state’s case numbers have remained “fairly consistent,” with no significant reductions in the last two weeks, and officials are still getting reports of transmission in settings where people weren’t distancing or masking.

State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield noted that Minnesota’s daily new case numbers generally have been increasing over the last couple months, but that it’s possible masks have slowed that rise.

The department reported 738 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and eight new deaths Friday to raise the state’s totals to 63,723 and 1,693 respectively.

Ehresmann acknowledged that students may not be receptive to the new guidance to stay home. She pointed out that she was a college student herself a long time ago and that she’s been the mother of college students, too.

“I know I sound like a mom when I’m saying it, but I am a mom and I do care about the outcome for our students,” she said.