ST. CLOUD -- With students preparing to head back into the classroom, health officials are encouraging families to take precautions as the delta variant continues to surge across the country.

While students ages 12-18 are eligible to receive the COVID vaccine, younger students remain at risk.

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Dr. Jill Amsberry is a CentraCare pediatrician and member of the Minnesota Department of Health COVID Vaccine Allocation Advisory Group.

She says studies have shown COVID cases in kids are far and above what they saw throughout the pandemic because of the delta variant.

There have been 4.5-million infections of COVID in children across the United States since the pandemic began. Even last week we've had about 94,000 cases of COVID in kids in the United States, which is a significant increase than it has been in the past.

Last month, the Minnesota Department of Education suggested school districts follow the CDC's guidance in COVID prevention, which includes wearing a mask regardless of vaccination status.

Amsberry says while it's still unclear if the delta variant causes more severe symptoms in children, it is more easily spread.

So the R value for the delta variant is 5. What that means is it if you have one person who has COVID, it is likely on average, that person will infect at least 5 other people. Then those 5 people will infect 5 more people, so you could have an outbreak in a school setting in a matter of weeks.

Amsberry says they are still encouraging COVID vaccinations for any student who is eligible (12 to 18-years-old) and for students who aren't to keep wearing a mask.

She says there is talk of a COVID vaccine available for kids between 5 to 11-years-old sometime before the end of the year.

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