Region 7 Regional Support Team

Resource Training & Solutions Regional Support Team

In the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in your school building, learning plan concerns, or other school-related COVID-19 concerns please contact the regional support coordinator for the primary county your school is located in.

Chisago, Isanti, Meeker, Sherburne, and Wright County

Michelle Wang - Regional Support Coordinator

(320) 255-3236 ext. 317

Benton, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Pine, and Stearns County

Scott Fitzsimonds - Regional Support Coordinator

(612) 361-3737

Regional Support Teams

The Regional Support Teams are a partnership between local public health officials, MDE, MDH, and regional service cooperatives to support school districts and charter schools in navigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020-21 school year. 

Beginning August 24, 2020, school districts and charter schools will work with Regional Support Teams to consult regarding implementation and ongoing evaluation of their learning model. 

Team Structure

Regional Support Teams are structured in a way that allows efficient communication from the school and district level to the state level in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school building. 

The first step in this process is for a superintendent or charter school leader to contact their assigned service cooperative lead. The lead will then contact MDH and/or local public health officials to begin the response process, who will notify the Regional Support Team regarding appropriate next steps. The Regional Support Teams are made up of rapid response staff, health consultants, and testing event planners.

Rapid Response

State lead to direct and oversee the response to districts and schools:

  • Coordination across state supports and regional service cooperatives.
  • Works with State Testing Workgroup, oversees school testing event team.
  • 3-4 school testing staff who help execute events when local communities need support.

Leads from regional service cooperatives (9):

  • Main point of contact for school districts and charter schools in the region.
  • Shares updates and information between school districts/charter schools and local public health officials, MDH, MDE and other state partners.
  • Supports schools in completing contact tracing surveys.
  • Facilitates connections with local public health officials, MDH, MDE, and other state partners as needed.

Health Consultant

  • MDH epidemiologists, assigned by region and paired with regional service cooperatives and local public health officials.
  • Connect with regional supports to help respond to health and epidemiology questions.
  • Supports state reporting and trends on COVID-19 and implications for schools.
  • Supports local and state health officials in tracking cases, testing events, and school closures.

Face Coverings

According to Executive Order 20-81 and 20-94, all K-12 students, staff, and other persons present inside school buildings and district offices, on school grounds where social distancing cannot be maintained, or onboard school transportation vehicles, must wear a face covering. Students who have medical conditions, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for the individual to maintain a face covering are not required to wear a face covering. For students who are able to wear a face covering and refuse, school districts or charter schools are strongly discouraged from using suspension but may require such students to move to distance learning.

Face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer does not know they are infected. A face shield (a clear plastic barrier that covers the face) allows visibility of facial expressions and lip movements for speech perception and may be used as an alternative to a face covering in certain situations.

Face coverings should not be placed on anyone under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance, or anyone who cannot tolerate a face covering due to a developmental, medical or behavioral health condition.

Ideally, face coverings should be worn in combination with other infection control measures, including social distancing, but face coverings are especially important in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has explained, face coverings are most effective when they are worn by all individuals in public settings when around others outside of their households, because many people infected withCOVID-19 do not show symptoms. Consistent with this guidance, Minnesota has strongly recommended widespread use of face coverings since April 2020. On July 22, 2020, Governor Walz signed Executive Order 20-81, requiring face coverings in all indoor public spaces in Minnesota, including K-12 school buildings.

The State of Minnesota will provide the following supplies to all public and private schools:

  • Every K-12 student will receive one cloth face covering.
  • Every school staff member will receive one cloth face covering.
  • Every school will receive three disposable face masks per student.
  • Every school will receive face shields for all licensed teachers and 50% of non-licensed staff.

[UPDATED 12/24/20]: Beginning January 18, It is strongly recommended that districts and charter schools require staff to wear face masks and face shields together whenever possible during the school day. School districts and charter schools should strongly consider the following as the only exemptions for their masking and face shield requirement policy:

  • When staff are serving students in settings where seeing a person’s lips is necessary, staff are strongly encouraged to wear a clear face mask in addition to the required face shield. If they do not have access to a clear face mask, they can choose to only wear the required face shield.
  • When staff are providing direct services that require close, physical, and prolonged contact, schools should follow MDH’s Guidance for Delivering Direct Student Support Services: Staff Protective Equipment.
  • When staff are preforming duties in which a face mask and a face shield worn together are creating a safety concern (eg. visual impairment while operating a vehicle, working in a kitchen, lab etc.), staff may choose to only wear the required face mask.

Responding to Confirmed Cases of COVID-19

When a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified in a school community, it is important for school districts and charter schools to work closely with local public health and MDH officials through the Regional Support Teams to identify whether the person who is ill was present on school grounds while infectious and whether that resulted in any close contact exposures among students or staff. Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of COVID-19, it is important that close contacts of students or staff with COVID-19 are quickly identified, informed of the need to quarantine at home, and encouraged to seek testing, even if they are not showing any symptoms. In general, testing of close contacts should not occur until either a person becomes symptomatic or at least 5 to 7 days have passed since their last exposure to the confirmed case to guard against a false-negative test result, which can occur when a person is tested too early in the incubation period. Even if a close contact tests negative, they must remain in quarantine for a full 14 days, as some people develop an infection at the end of their incubation period. The CDC does not recommend universal testing of all students and staff.

In addition to the identification and notification of close contacts, school districts and charter schools should consider the questions outlined below in consultation with health officials to determine whether additional mitigation strategies are needed to protect the school community.

  • How many cases are there, and are they close in time together, or spread out over several weeks? Sporadic,single confirmed cases are not necessarily worrisome on their own, especially if students or staff did not attend school while infectious or the potential exposures in the school setting are limited (e.g., few classrooms or activities are impacted). Multiple cases that are identified closer together in time (e.g., within one week) could indicate that a significant, unidentified exposure occurred and/or that a higher level of transmission is occurring.
  • Are new cases traceable to the school community or are they likely the result of a different exposure (e.g.,household exposure, travel)? It is concerning to see cases that can be clearly traced back to an exposure within the school setting, as it may be an indication that transmission is occurring between members of the school community. Cases that can be traced back to a different exposure, such as a cluster of cases within a house hold or a likely exposure to a positive case while traveling, indicate that attendance in school was not the likely source of illness.
  • Where are the cases occurring, and do they have any common themes? If cases seem to be concentrated based on a common trait such as a physical location (e.g., confined to one building within a school) or to a specific group within the school (e.g., a cluster of cases among food service workers), it may be possible to narrow down the exposure source and take more specific actions that do not necessarily require a change in the learning model used for the school or school system as a whole. Finding common themes among cases may also aid a school’s efforts to modify practices to help prevent similar future exposures.
  • Are students, parents, and staff forthcoming about close contacts? When people are unwilling or unable to disclose their close contacts, it may be difficult to ensure that contact tracing can be effectively completed.When contact tracing cannot be fully completed, it is possible that exposed persons may not exclude for there commended quarantine period of 14 days and could go on to develop symptoms of illness while in the school setting, thereby resulting in additional exposures.
  • Is there other significant COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding community (e.g., a cluster of cases at a large local employer) that will likely impact families and staff? For example, in communities that are currently experiencing or have very recently (within the last 14 days) experienced an outbreak in a large local employer or 14 other setting where the families of many students and/or spouses of many staff work or visit, the nature of the community outbreak may increase the potential for community transmission in the school setting.
  • Are you able to maintain your current learning model based on staffing? Staffing is a critical component of school operations. When adequate staffing to support an in-person or hybrid learning model cannot be achieved, it may be necessary for schools to transition to an alternative learning model.

COVID-19 Testing Process

While school communities execute significant strategies to prevent transmission of COVID-19, and as long as the virus continues to circulate in our communities, we must be diligent in monitoring and testing. This section is intended to provide an overview for pre-K and K-12 educational institutions to prepare for and execute needed COVID-19 testing for student, staff and other populations associated with their school.

Any school that may need to implement a COVID-19 testing strategy will work directly with their Regional Support Teams, following the process outlined in the Team Structure section above. This testing strategy provides a frame work for schools and the state, but can vary based on the setting, number of close contacts, and circumstances. Each situation may look slightly different, and the Regional Support Team will guide school and district leaders through the necessary processes.

Routine universal testing is not recommended in schools. Testing should not be used as an entry or enrollment tool for programs for staff, students or families.

State Partnership and Strategy

Access to testing and a community’s ability to mitigate transmission and respond to COVID-19 exposure is a critical factor in a school or district’s ability to provide in-person instruction. As such, the state has outlined a series of strategies that will support you.

Testing educators and school staff: The state has a contract with a national saliva testing lab and will work with all insurers to ensure that all educators have access to a COVID-19 test from day one. This is a test that can be conducted at home and uses a courier for transport. This process ensures that in the case where an educator has close contact with a confirmed case and experiences any challenges getting tested in their community, there is a back-up option. This program will end on December 30, 2020.

Comprehensive testing strategies: The Regional Support Teams have a framework and strategy for how to plan for and respond to a potential COVID-19 exposure in our school communities. In all cases, the state has a structure and partnership with districts and charter schools to ensure that there is regular communication and consultation with public health experts.

The comprehensive testing strategy includes:

  • State ensures school and settings are prioritized for COVID-19 testing when close contacts have been identified.
  • Regional Support Teams work with schools to ensure close contacts of an exposure are tested by local providers.
  • Testing events are used when 50+ close contacts and when local communities cannot execute their own testing events, the State Testing Workgroup steps in to execute.
  • School staff and students are prioritized in other available community testing events.

On-site Saliva Testing for All Minnesota School Staff In-Person or Hybrid Learning

Regular testing is one of many critical strategies for controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and supporting our frontline workers in schools. As Governor Walz continues to prioritize in-person learning while protecting the health and safety of students, staff and families, we know that increasing our capacity to test school staff is important.

Governor Walz has asked the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Health to update the Safe Learning Plan, directing all Minnesota public schools who are providing in-person learning (whether as part of an in person or hybrid learning model) to offer testing for all on-site staff every two weeks beginning January 4, 2021, or whenever they return to in-person learning after that date.

The State of Minnesota will supply schools with the training and test kits they need to conduct testing every other week. Minnesota’s nonpublic and tribal schools will also have access to testing supplies if they choose to offer tests to their staff. The length of this program is contingent on funding.

In order to manage capacity of testing labs, each school will be assigned a designated day to conduct testing. SchoolCOVID-19 coordinators will be trained to oversee staffs’ use of self-administered saliva tests for their school communities.

These tests will be conducted in-person and will not use the same online format as the at-home saliva tests that schools were provided at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

For more information, see Questions and Answers: On-site COVID-19 Saliva Testing for All Minnesota School Staff.

Testing Scenarios and Thresholds

If a known exposure occurs in a classroom (from staff or students), close contacts will be quarantined at home for 14days. Close contacts are defined as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the patient is isolated testing is recommended for all close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Potential scenarios include:

Testing is recommended for close contacts (by Regional Support Team):

  • Symptomatic students, children and staff
  • Asymptomatic close contacts—children and staff who are asymptomatic no sooner than 5 to 7 days after known exposure to confirmed case.

Testing with local providers: In classrooms or programs with less than 50 close contacts (including children, students and staff) identified, the school community will notify families and they will seek out testing individually through an appointment with their clinic or access a testing site. Educators, school staff and asymptomatic individuals who have been identified as close contacts of a positive case in schools are a prioritized group in state testing guidance to health care providers. The liaison with MDE and MDH will remain partners with you and want to be notified if these close contacts are not being tested.

  • Here is draft language to use in communication with families: Please contact your health care provider to see about getting them tested or visit the Find Testing Locations webpage to find a testing site near you. MDH recommends waiting to be tested until 5 to 7 days after known exposure, which is the optimal time period for the virus to be detected by a test.

Testing event: Based on the number of close contacts identified, a testing event should be considered if more than 50 close contacts (including staff, children and family community) are identified. Partnering with their Regional Support Team, districts will work with local health providers to execute these events first and bring in other state partners as needed. If local resources are limited and/or state-coordinated response is necessary, the State Testing Workgroup and school testing teams will plan with local communities to execute. If a testing event is indicated, it will not occur until at least 5 to7 days after a known exposure.

Universal testing: A universal testing event could be recommended when substantial or ongoing transmission among students and staff is suspected to be occurring. Substantial transmission is defined as a threshold of 5%of total attendees (students and staff) have influenza-like illness or there are five or more non-linked laboratory confirmed cases in a single week. Non-linked cases are those that cannot be linked to another case at the school and do not have a clear link to a confirmed case outside of the school. Linked cases include people who are present in the same setting during the same time period (e.g., same classroom, school event, school-based extracurricular activity, or school transportation). As with testing events, if local communities are not able to execute such an event, the state will support the execution.

Minnesota Department of Education. (2020). Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21.