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The majority of Minnesota students returning to classrooms this fall won't have to wear a mask. Most districts also won't require COVID-19 vaccinations for pupils or educators.

And those who aren't inoculated won't need to be isolated upon exposure to the coronavirus, according to existing policies and recently revised guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As Minnesota schools further relax their already loose COVID restrictions, class is going to look much like it did before anyone first heard the term "novel coronavirus."

Still, the state will track cases in schools — albeit less often — and health experts urge people to heed public health messages about getting vaccinated and adding prevention measures when community infection rates are high.

But Kirk Schneidawind, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association, said the organization has noticed that the days of contentious meetings over masking and distancing policies are largely a thing of the past.

"In the run up to the school year, it feels like we're back in 2018 or 2019 and we're kind of getting back to normalcy," Schneidawind said.

As fall approaches, the St. Paul school board is considering dropping the district's vaccination-or-testing requirement for staff and volunteers. Minneapolis has a similar policy that's still in effect; officials say they expect to release new guidelines soon.

And the Anoka-Hennepin School District's building-by-building approach to masking requirements expired at the end of the last school year.

And in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Rochester districts, officials are still preparing their COVID protocols for the new year.

"Our plan for 2022-23 is rooted in the CDC guidance around COVID-19 mitigation protocols, which we have relied on since the beginning of the pandemic," Rosemount district spokesman Tony Taschner said.

The coming changes reflect the difference in the landscape since last summer when the delta variant arrived and caused a surge in infections and severe COVID-19 illnesses, pushing some districts to adopt mask mandates when they originally thought they may go without.

When the Anoka-Hennepin district implemented its building-by-building policy in January, officials decided it would be triggered in part when infections in either county reached 50 per 10,000 residents. Last week, neither county registered more than 20 infections per 10,000 residents, according to CDC data.

Until the recent revision, the CDC's guidelines for schools had suggested test-to-stay policies by which students with viral exposures could remain in class if results were negative. Unvaccinated students previously were recommended to quarantine for 10 days upon exposure. Now the recommendation calls for masking up for five days.

In addition to its relaxed guidance on isolation and quarantines, the CDC is no longer recommending social distancing or routine testing of students and staff who don't show symptoms.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) over the summer also revised its school reporting guidelines. Instead of reporting individual cases daily, schools will now provide weekly reports to the agency tallying their overall count of positive cases.

Districts will provide those reports to the Minnesota Department of Education every Wednesday detailing positive cases for the previous week.

Pediatric COVID-19 cases were uncommon early in the pandemic, but the CDC estimates that the rate of infected children has tripled from 28% last fall to 82% this summer.

While schools are relaxing requirements, parents should still consider whether masks or other protections are needed, especially if their children are immunocompromised or have health conditions that could worsen COVID-19, said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic's vaccine research group. Immunity wanes with time so a high prior rate of coronavirus infections is no guarantee of protection.

"That's not an iron shield," he said. "It does not prevent reinfection."

Minnesota districts have had wide latitude to develop and implement their own COVID policies since Gov. Tim Walz's state of emergency expired late last summer and experts say school leaders should focus on what they can control as they head into a new year.

Approaches vary across the country, too, as schools nationwide relax many of their protocols.

Illinois dropped its mask mandate but retained its vaccine requirement for school staff. And in Oregon, the state Department of Education is relinquishing control in its role developing school safety plans after more than two years of keeping its hands on the wheel.

"There's not a standard approach," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Both he and MDH encourage districts to optimize ventilation to reduce airborne viral spread in classrooms, funding for which was included in federal aid packages. State health officials also say parents should keep their kids home when they're sick and that schools should teach them how to properly wash their hands.

Osterholm said other school prevention strategies had holes. Test-to-stay policies used rapid antigen tests with high rates of false negative results, potentially keeping infected kids in classes. Kids often wore masks incorrectly and didn't have the most protective N-95 versions.

"Then, how good are those masks they were wearing? They probably provided very little benefit," Osterholm said.

Public health experts still say the best COVID mitigation strategies both in and out of schools are a mix of preventions such as masking and distancing when community infection rates are high. And, of course, vaccination.

About two-thirds of Minnesotans ages 5 and older have received at least one booster dose to maintain immunity after their initial shots, but the rate is lower for children and teens.

The Biden administration has been preparing to mount a new push to offer second booster shots for adults younger than 50 with a reformulated vaccine that provides better protection against the latest omicron variant. But it's unclear whether this option will be immediately available to anyone under 18.

COVID-19 levels have surged the past two falls, but forecasts are unclear about whether that will happen again. Viral levels in sewage at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul declined 2% over the last week and 18% since mid-June.

Poland cautioned against complacency, noting that some relaxed school standards are based on fatigue and hope that COVID-19 won't come back. While the death rate from COVID-19 cases is lower now than in previous pandemic waves, the U.S. is losing hundreds of people each week.

"If I announced a new virus with an exotic-sounding name that was killing 400 Americans a week and infecting children, there would be panic," he said. "And yet I'm describing the current situation."

Staff writers Mara Klecker and Anthony Lonetree contributed to this story.