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'It Is Simply Heartbreaking': 1st-Grader In SW Minnesota Dies Due To COVID-19 Complications

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota Department of Health officials say they are "deeply saddened" to confirm the death of a school-aged child under the age of 10 due to complications from COVID-19.

On Monday, the health department said the child was from southwestern Minnesota and that the school-aged death will be included in Thursday's school data update.

"While COVID-related deaths in children are rare, they can occur even in otherwise healthy children. Since the start of the pandemic, three Minnesota children under age 18 have died due to COVID-19," the health department said in a statement.

Superintendent of Marshall Public Schools Jeremy Williams says the child was a first-grader at Park Side Elementary. The student died from COVID-19 complications on Sunday. Williams says crisis team members will be on hand at the school to support those in need.

Gov. Tim Walz released a statement Monday afternoon in response to the death.

"It is simply heartbreaking to hear that COVID-19 has taken the life of someone so young," Walz said. "My thoughts are with the Minnesota family grieving the loss of their beloved child. There is no grief more profound than the loss of family."

Walz's office said the child that died did not have underlying health conditions.

State health officials have reported an increase in cases and hospitalizations of children from the virus.

"One, I think, is COVID fatigue. That's a big issue right now, people letting down their guard. Two is there is a new variant going around," Dr. Stacene Marouschek of Hennepin Healthcare said.

The more contagious B117 variant is spreading throughout the state.

Cecila Alvarez, of Marshall, has a daughter in the district. She wonders if students should go back to distance learning until parents have more information on any potential close contacts in the small town school district.

"Education is, of course, important but their lives are more important. You don't get them back, you don't get a do-over," Alvarez said.

According to the school district, 22 students and staff are in quarantine at the elementary school. The superintendent said they are following MDH guidelines and no grades are changing from in-person learning at this time.

Pediatric pulmonologist for Children's Minnesota Hospital, Dr. Brooke Moore, said that most children who get COVID will be asymptomatic or have mild to moderate illness. But around 10% of cases right now are severe.

This child marks the third under the age of 18 that has died in Minnesota since the start of the pandemic. Experts say children with health conditions, infants, and adolescents tend to be more at risk among youth.

MDH officials say children under 16 years old are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, so the best approach is making sure those around them are vaccinated, as well as testing, social distancing, face masks and washing hands frequently.

"As the vaccines help us turn the page on COVID-19, we can't forget that this is a deadly disease. It has taken over 7,000 Minnesotans' lives and it continues to persist in our communities. It's on all of us to do our part to end this pandemic – wear a mask, social distance, get tested, and get the vaccine. It will save lives," Walz said.

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