COVID-19 outbreak quarantines nearly 300 Albert Lea students

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(ABC 6 News) – It’s been seven days since kids in Albert Lea went back to school. However, they’re already being sent home again due to a major COVID outbreak.

There are about 30 active COVID cases within the district with over 300 other students quarantined from exposure. This recent spike means that now all students in grades six through 12 have to wear a mask at all times. The superintendent says he wishes they would have mandated masks from the start.

RELATED: Albert Lea re-implements mask requirement for secondary students

"Hindsight yeah absolutely we’d have less kids out if we had a mask on everybody right now. But that’s not where our community was at," Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk said.

He says a large part of the community didn’t want masks.

"People are tired of masking. They just are," he said.

The superintendent says he wanted to move away from a "one size fits all" approach to masking. He eventually wants each individual school to have their own policies. Right now students in grades six through 12 will have to wear masks no matter their vaccination status through October 20.

"This will provide our families chances at the secondary level to vaccinate their students," Funk said.

The district has weekly phone calls with Freeborn County Public Health for guidance but the Minnesota Department of Health says it’s not enough.

"Over the last couple days we’ve heard some particularly troubling news which is kind of a cautionary tale from Albert Lea. The transmission chain started there quickly and may not be easily stopped," Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcom said.

The superintendent agrees. He urges all students and staff to wear masks and listen to CDC recommendations. However. he is not mandating it.

"Frankly this is just not sustainable. Having kids out for this long. Especially at the beginning of school," Funk said.

Concerned parents don’t understand why there hasn’t been a mandate from the start.

"I was upset. We wanna stop the outbreaks we wanna make sure kids are healthy and safe," Albert Lea Schools parent Therese Saindon said.

Albert Lea currently has other safety measures in place as well. Every day all students and staff get their temperatures checked and fill out a short questionnaire about their symptoms. There currently is no widespread mask mandate.