ROCHESTER, Minn. — Health officials have released new guidance that school-age children will be asked to isolate at home for two weeks following exposure to someone with COVID-19, whether or not they test negative.

The new guidance, released on the health department website and addressed in a news conference on Monday, Sept. 14, is likely to frustrate working parents unable to drop their jobs on a moment's notice to watch over a child, who may or may not even be sick, for a half-month.

"We recently released a COVID-19 schools and child care and youth programming exclusion guidance, also called our COVID-19 Decision Tree," said state Director for Infectious Disease Kris Ehresmann. "It lays out a number of scenarios and appropriate steps for children, students and staff ... guidance for when children need to stay home from school or child care."

The Minnesota Department of Health collaborated with the Minnesota Medical Association and the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop this guidance, then refined it in late summer ahead of the start of the fall school year.

It defines close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes), isolation of the sick versus quarantine of those exposed (the latter can leave the house), the symptoms of COVID-19 (loss of taste of smell, fever above 100.4 degrees, a new cough) and when children must stay home.

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Ironically, under the guidelines, being exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus requires a longer quarantine than the isolation of a child who has tested positive.

"The prospect of suddenly needing to pivot to almost two weeks of isolation and school being completely remote is disruptive to say the least," Ehresmann said. "But we need families to have a plan for when and if that happens to their school or child."

"We know it's not easy for parents or for our students who suddenly need to make alternate arrangements for their children for up to two weeks," said Susan Klammer of the health department. "But it is one of our best tools to prevent spread ... we need to keep these spaces where children and staff are gathering as safe as possible."

"I know personally as a parent that this is not easy for families to adapt to this disruption and to try to balance work," said Andrea Singh, a pediatrician at Park Nicollet. "But this fall and winter is going to look different ...Typical cold symptoms are not just typical cold symptoms this season, it is certainly possible they could be COVID-19. Using this exclusion criteria to make those decisions is going to be super important."

School nursing officials stressed that children who are delivered to school with symptoms will just end up experiencing the discomfort of being sent home.

The guidance comes in the wake of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Friday, Sept. 11, suggesting children in child care can pick up the virus asymptomatically, then transmit it to members of their household and others. In one case, an asymptomatic child brought the virus home from child care, and a parent was hospitalized.

"There is no get-out-of-jail-free card for COVID-19 when you've been exposed," Ehresmann said. "The incubation period is 14 days ... You have to stay out, even if you have a negative test, as disappointing and frustrating as that is." The reasoning, Ehresmann said, is a negative test within 14 days could have preceded the arrival of the virus during the incubation period.

By the numbers

The state of Minnesota on Monday reported another 643 cases of COVID-19. The new cases bring the cumulative state case total to 84,949.

In addition, health officials reported three deaths from the illness. The deaths were among residents of Hennepin, McLeod and Wright counties. None were among residents of long-term care; the Wright County resident was in their late 50s.

To date 1,922 Minnesotans have died of the virus.

The state reported an additional 17, 152 tests on Monday. It was an extraordinary weekend for testing, including 21,460 tests reported Sunday, 20,595 on Saturday and 17,861 on Friday.

More than 77,000 tests have been given in the state over the last four days, bringing the number of Minnesotans tested to 1,243,355.

Health officials are offering free testing, no insurance necessary from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Winona, Minn., Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 15 and 16. Appointments are encouraged via online signup at the MDH testing webpage.

Testing is available for anyone with symptoms or for asymptomatic people who believe they have been exposed to the virus. The testing will be offered in the parking lot of the Integrated Wellness Complex at Winona State University.

There are now 233 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, 135 in an ICU setting.

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  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
  • COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.