Advice is evolving along with the coronavirus. Here's the latest from staff and wire reports.

Where can I see Minnesota's COVID-19 numbers?

Check our COVID tracker.

Where can I get tested for COVID-19?

Minnesota has several free COVID-19 testing sites that offer saliva and/or rapid tests. Minnesotans may also order a free test through the state's at-home COVID-19 testing program. Health care providers and some pharmacies also offer testing.

Free tests can be ordered at covidtests.gov. The first tests will ship by the end of January. Read more here.

You may find home rapid tests at pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS, grocery stores, health care providers and online, although supplies may be limited. Read more about testing here.

Minnesota health insurers are beginning to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests, but state officials advise that consumers should contact health plans first to understand how to access the new benefits. Insurers will pay up to $12 per individual test, or $24 for a package that contains two tests, and provide coverage for up to eight tests per person per month. UnitedHealthcare has agreements with Walmart and a growing list of retailers to make available free at-home COVID-19 tests when subscribers present their ID cards at pharmacy counters.

Where can I get a vaccine?

Check the state of Minnesota's vaccine page.

How can I make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for kids in Minnesota?

Minnesota has launched a webpage (mn.gov/vaxforkids) to help parents and guardians find a vaccine and answer questions.

More than 1,100 Minnesota providers, including pediatricians, pharmacies, local public health agencies and schools, are able to provide vaccines to children. Read more here.

Can I get a vaccine incentive?

Minnesota families who get their child 5-11 years old fully vaccinated in January and February can get a $200 Visa gift card. Later this spring, there will be drawings for five $100,000 Minnesota college scholarships for all Minnesotans 5-11 years old who are fully vaccinated.

Ramsey County offers a $50 Visa gift card program for people who get their first Pfizer shot at a clinic operated by the St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health Department, while supplies last. The program is open to everyone, regardless of county residence.

Hennepin County is offering $50 Visa gift cards per shot to anyone who gets vaccinated at a Hennepin County vaccine clinic or event, while supplies last.

What's the new vaccine requirement in Minneapolis and St. Paul?

Minneapolis and St. Paul require customers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (taken under medical supervision within the past 72 hours) to enter restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues. Patrons 18 or older must show identification in St. Paul but not in Minneapolis. Children under 5 are exempt.

Proof of booster shots is not required.

People can show a photo or the hard copy of their vaccination card. They can also use some third-party phone apps, such as Docket. Read more about the requirements here.

The orders, which both mayors enacted Jan. 12 with their emergency powers, also apply to stadiums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, convention centers and other venues that serve food or drinks. St. Paul's mandate will apply only to businesses that are licensed by the city, so restaurants that don't sell alcohol will not have to follow the new regulation. Employees won't be subject to new requirements.

The new restrictions go into effect for most businesses Jan. 19 and for ticketed events Jan. 26. St. Paul's order will expire in 40 days.

What if I'm going to an event at the University of Minnesota?

The University of Minnesota is putting in place a temporary vaccination requirement for indoor events on all of its campuses. That will include athletic contests with more than 200 fans in attendance. The university is not following the Minneapolis mandate — it sits independent of city ordinances — but the rules for anyone over the age of 5 are the same. As of now, the mandate is only scheduled to be in place from Jan. 26 through Feb. 9.

What's going on with the federal vaccine mandate?

The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration's requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job. But the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a mandate for health care providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding, affecting 10.4 million workers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

A U.S. judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction on Jan. 21 barring the federal government from enforcing the requirement for federal workers. The Justice Department said it would appeal.

Where do I need to wear a mask?

Minneapolis and St. Paul reinstated indoor mask mandates as of 5 p.m. Jan. 6, with mayors from both cities citing a rise in COVID-19 cases from the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Minneapolis' order requires face coverings in "any indoor locations where members of the public may gather, visit or patronize," while St. Paul's applies to businesses licensed by the city "at all times when social distancing of at least 6 feet is not maintained" except when eating or drinking.

Both cities will exempt young children (specified in Minneapolis as those under the age of 2) and those with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks.

Minneapolis officials said they will continue to provide masks to businesses and organizations at no cost. Citing the CDC guidelines, Minneapolis and St. Paul officials recommend that the public wear "high-quality" masks, such as N95 or KN95 masks.

Other Minnesota cities with mask mandates are: Rochester, in effect until Feb. 7. Duluth, in effect until Feb. 12. Hopkins, in effect until Feb. 13. St. Louis Park, in effect until Feb. 22. Minnetonka, in effect until March 19. Golden Valley, in effect until further notice.

Golden Valley and Rochester are requiring face coverings for anyone over the age of 2, while in Duluth, Hopkins, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park, it's anyone over the age of 5.

Several other cities have passed resolutions strongly encouraging masks, including Bloomington, Edina and Brooklyn Park.

Minnesota required mask wearing for its workers in state government buildings, a day after St. Paul, Minneapolis, Hennepin County and Ramsey County required masks for workers and visitors in their buildings.

Anybody 2 years old and over in Brooklyn Center must now wear a mask in city facilities and city schools. The suburb also enacted a health emergency, allowing it to enact pandemic emergency plans if needed, which will remain in effect until the City Council takes action to end it.

Target, Cub Foods and other retailers require masks for employees and encourage them for customers in areas with high coronavirus transmission levels.

Some businesses such as Juut Salon Spa, as well as employers such as Wells Fargo and the Star Tribune, are requiring visitors and workers to wear masks. U.S. Bancorp requires masks for unvaccinated employees and "strongly" encourage them for the vaccinated. Starkey Hearing Technologies told all workers to wear masks in common areas and unvaccinated employees to also wear masks at their desks.

Amazon requires all of its 900,000 U.S. warehouse workers to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

People also need to wear a mask on public transportation.

What does the CDC say about masks?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in areas with high or substantial levels of viral transmission. Unvaccinated people are urged to wear masks in indoor public settings, social engagements and crowded outdoor settings. In updated guidance posted Jan. 15, CDC officials said that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection.

How can I get a quality face mask (and avoid counterfeits)?

There are so many different masks for sale, it's tough to know which ones have been tested and certified by government agencies, and which are counterfeit. Read a guide to choosing the best mask for you here.

Can I get a free N95 mask?

The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to U.S. residents starting next week.

What should I do if I've been exposed to the virus?

The CDC suggests that people exposed to the virus quarantine for five days, unless they have gotten booster shots or recently received their initial vaccine doses. The agency said anyone exposed — regardless of vaccination status — should get tested five days later, if possible.

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

U.S. health officials on Dec. 27 cut isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine. If you live with other people, that means staying in a separate room and using a separate bathroom, if possible. You should also wear a mask if you come into contact with others.

People with symptoms during isolation, or who develop symptoms during quarantine, are encouraged to stay home.

You should get care if you have trouble breathing or develop other serious symptoms. But there are many people with certain conditions — including heart diseases, diabetes and weakened immune systems — who should seek care even if they have mild illness, because of their elevated risk for developing serious complications. You should tell your doctor, who may prescribe medications. Tell the people you've been in close contact with.

The CDC said Jan. 4 that, for people who catch COVID-19, testing is not required to emerge from five days of isolation — despite hints from other federal officials that the agency was reconsidering that — if a person has been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications and if other symptoms are resolving. The CDC said people should wear masks everywhere for the five days after isolation ends.

The CDC cited evidence showing that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

Can kids who've been exposed to COVID go to school?

The CDC said unvaccinated students exposed to the coronavirus could remain in school, as long as they are tested for the virus twice in the week after exposure and both tests come back negative; they should wear masks and socially distance.

Vaccinated students with exposures have generally been allowed to remain in school as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask. Read more here.

What is the omicron variant?

The omicron variant was named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. The naming system, announced by the World Health Organization in May, makes public communication about variants easier and less confusing, the agency and experts said. It's unclear where the omicron variant, named B.1.1.529, actually arose. It now is the dominant variant in the U.S. and among new cases in Minnesota.

There are now seven "variants of interest" or "variants of concern," and they each have a Greek letter, according to a WHO tracking page. Read more here.

How contagious is omicron?

Since it emerged in mid-November, omicron has raced across the globe like fire through dry grass. Research shows the variant is at least twice as contagious as delta and at least four times as contagious as the original version of the virus. Omicron is more likely than delta to reinfect individuals who previously had COVID-19 and to cause "breakthrough infections" in vaccinated people while also attacking the unvaccinated.

What are the symptoms of an omicron infection?

Many symptoms vary depending on a person's vaccine status. Vaccinated omicron patients complain of headaches, body aches and fever — "like a really bad cold," said Maya N. Clark-Cutaia, an assistant professor at the New York University Meyers College of Nursing. Unvaccinated people have the same shortness of breath, cough and flulike symptoms she saw among unvaccinated people with delta and the original coronavirus.

One other difference between omicron and other variants is that omicron seems to have a shorter incubation time — after a person is exposed, it takes as few as three days for them to develop symptoms, become contagious and test positive compared with four to six days with delta and the original coronavirus, said Dr. Waleed Javaid, the director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York City. Read more here.

Emily Landon, the chief infectious-disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, has heard a growing number of patients who have sneezy, stuffy heads and scratchy throats. Read more here.

How much protection does the vaccine offer against omicron?

Overall, new CDC data show that the vaccines were more protective against the delta variant than against omicron. Booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 90% effective against hospitalization with the omicron variant, the CDC reported. Booster shots also reduced the likelihood of a visit to an emergency department or urgent care clinic. The extra doses were most effective against infection and death among Americans 50 and older, the data showed.

Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization with the omicron variant fell to just 57% in people who had received their second dose more than six months earlier, the authors found. A third shot restored that protection to 90%. Read more here.

What about natural immunity?

A prior infection doesn't seem to offer much protection against an omicron infection although, like with vaccination, it may reduce the chances of severe illness. Health experts say anyone who's survived a bout of COVID-19 still should get vaccinated, because the combination generally offers stronger protection. Read more here.

Is omicron more dangerous for children?

Preliminary data suggest that compared with the delta variant, omicron appears to be causing milder illness in children, similar to early findings for adults, even as hospitalizations rise. Read more here.

What about booster shots?

The U.S. is urging that everyone 12 and older get a COVID-19 booster as soon as they're eligible.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is the only option for American children. New U.S. guidelines say anyone who received two Pfizer vaccinations and is eligible for a booster can get it five months after their last shot. Anyone 18 or older can choose a Moderna booster five months after their last dose. For anyone who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the wait already was just two months.

People can mix-and-match boosters from any company.

The CDC also recommended Jan. 4 that kids ages 5 to 11 with moderately or severely weakened immune systems receive an additional dose 28 days after their second Pfizer shot.

Experts agree that getting a booster too soon can reduce the benefit.

Should you mix or match your COVID-19 vaccine booster shot?

Most Americans should be given the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson shot that can cause rare but serious blood clots, U.S. health officials said Dec. 16.

What do federal regulators say about vaccines for kids?

The CDC on Nov. 3 cleared kid-size doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Pfizer has additional studies underway in those younger than 5.

U.S. regulators are delaying their decision on Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for 12- to 17-year-olds while they study the rare risk of heart inflammation. The company also said it will delay filing a request for emergency-use authorization of a lower dose of the vaccine for 6- to 11-year-olds.

How often do COVID vaccines cause heart problems in kids?

While the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna do seem to be associated with an increased risk of myocarditis, the latest data indicate that the absolute risk remains very small and that most cases are mild and resolve quickly. Read more here.

Is there a decline in the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines over time?

As the delta variant became the dominant strain across the United States, all three COVID-19 vaccines available to Americans lost some of their protective power, according to a study published Nov. 4 in the journal Science.

Researchers who scoured the records of nearly 800,000 U.S. veterans found that in early March, the three vaccines were roughly equal in their ability to prevent infections.

By the end of September, Moderna's two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, measured as 89% effective in March, was only 58% effective. The effectiveness of shots made by Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which also employed two doses, fell from 87% to 45% in the same period. And most strikingly, the protective power of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine plunged from 86% to just 13% over those six months.

Must the swab go that far up your nose to test for COVID-19?

Wariness about the test may arise from a simple fact: Most people cannot stand having something shoved so far up their nose.

Pain enters the picture when the swab — a tuft of nylon attached to a lollipop-like stick — is administered at the wrong angle, said Dr. Yuka Manabe, a professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Read more here.

Do masks work?

Ordinary surgical and paper masks work when worn properly, said Chris Hogan, a University of Minnesota researcher who has studied mask effectiveness and is editor of the Journal of Aerosol Science.

Generally, the CDC says masks should have two or more layers of "washable, breathable fabric" that completely covers your nose and mouth. They should "fit snugly against the sides of your face" with no gaps and have a wire that bends over your nose to prevent air leakage out the top.

The CDC says you should avoid masks made of fabric that makes it hard to breathe, that have exhalation valves or vents and N95s labeled as "surgical" masks to prioritize them for health care workers.

If you decide to keep wearing your multi-layer homemade or cloth mask, experts advise washing them every day. But proceed with caution. Read more here.

What about N95s?

Masks are best at keeping your exhaled particles away from others. Respirators, like the N95, also keep others' particles away from you. Any bona fide N95 has been certified to filter at least 95% of particles.

Many doctors and public health experts are now advocating for their use among the general public. Early in the pandemic, people were discouraged the masks over fear there wouldn't be enough for health care workers. That's no longer the case. Read more about N95 and KN95 respirators here.

Can employers mandate the vaccine?

FDA approval for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine sets the stage for employers across Minnesota to push harder for workers to get immunized.

Even before the regulatory action, immunization mandates were possible, attorneys say, so long as companies, universities and local governments provided exemptions to workers with religious or medical objections.

Are employers mandating the vaccine?

Some workplace policies are making it more of a hassle for workers to resist the vaccine. Others culminate in unvaccinated employees losing their jobs.

Many Minnesota employers were relieved after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine-or-test requirement. Read more here. But thousands of Minnesota companies now have to decide: With no federal vaccine mandate, should they do it themselves? Read more here.

Bayport-based Andersen Windows and Doors said its existing 6,000 Minnesota workers don't have to be vaccinated, but all new hires do. And to qualify for its newly enhanced 2022 profit-sharing plan, which promises workers up to $4,000 per year, employees must be vaccinated.

Minneapolis-based Graco, with 1,500 Minnesota workers, said it's canceling plans to require vaccines or weekly testing and will terminate all data collection of employees' vaccination statuses. In contrast, the Plymouth candy maker Maud Borup, with 200 workers in Plymouth and Le Center, will continue its vaccine or weekly test mandates.

Many large health care groups such as Allina Health and Mayo Clinic are moving forward with their mandates. On Dec. 8, Maplewood-based 3M told workers that the manufacturer was putting on standby its plans to require vaccination. Read more here.

Macalester, St. Benedict and St. John's, Carleton and St. Olaf said they will require their students and employees to receive a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Read more here.

Hennepin County requires its nearly 9,000 employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Ramsey County requires its 4,00 employees to provide proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing.

In late October, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said nearly every city employee would be required to have their shots completed by the end of the year, with exceptions for those who qualify for medical accommodations or religious exemptions. The union for a wide range of workers — from snowplow drivers to many of the manual laborers in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments — joined the police and fire unions seeking a regular testing option. St. Paul said Dec. 23 it will postpone enforcement for all city workers after a judge ordered St. Paul to stop enforcing a requirement while litigation continues.

A spokesman for Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group said a vaccination requirement applies to a "significant portion" of the roughly 220,000 employees in the U.S., including about 18,000 in Minnesota. Workers may request exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

St. Paul Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools require employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly beginning Oct. 15. Instead of showing proof upfront, St. Paul staff members will fill out a form and then be subject to potential audits later.

Intermediate School District 287, a cooperative serving about 1,000 high-needs kids in Hennepin County, said it requires staff members to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing or show proof of vaccination.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed an emergency regulation requiring city employees to get vaccinated or get tested regularly.

The Star Tribune requires employees who report to work onsite or work with the public to be vaccinated, with an accommodation request process for medical or religious reasons, by Feb. 9.

Minnesota government employees returning to the office must prove they've been vaccinated or comply with at least weekly testing. The mandate applies to roughly 50,000 people who work under the umbrella of state government and on Minnesota State campuses.

Mayo Clinic said workers throughout the Rochester-based health system must get vaccinated or go through an hourlong education session. Essentia Health will require all employees to be fully vaccinated by November. With few exceptions for medical and religious reasons, the mandate applies to all 13,000 of the Duluth-based health system's employees in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Sanford Health is requiring all workers to get shots by Nov. 1. The Fairview and Allina health systems announced vaccine requirements with some exceptions for their workers.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said it would require its 1,100 employees to get vaccinated by the end of August. Minneapolis law firm Robins Kaplan also has a vaccine mandate.

The federal Health and Human Services Department is requiring employees who provide care or services for patients to get their shots. The order from Secretary Xavier Becerra will affect more than 25,000 clinicians, researchers, contractors, trainees and volunteers with the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The VA ordered its health care workers to get vaccinated.

Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated.

Walmart required that all workers at its headquarters as well as its managers who travel within the U.S. be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4.

Delta Air Lines employees on Delta's health plan who haven't been fully vaccinated will incur a $200 monthly surcharge, deducted from paychecks beginning in November. Unvaccinated employees are required to mask up at indoor Delta facilities. And beginning Sept. 30, COVID-19 pay protection applies to fully vaccinated employees who suffer a breakthrough infection. The new policies don't apply to regional airline partners, including Minneapolis-based Endeavor Air, that operate under the Delta Connection name.

Medtronic, which has its operational headquarters in Fridley, said workers need to be vaccinated or have a recent negative test result to enter U.S. offices.

Members of the U.S. military were required to get the COVID-19 vaccine beginning in September, as were employees of the Pentagon.

What about entertainment venues?

Besides the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis and St. Paul city requirements, Renegade Theater Company will require proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test and a mask to attend its performances at Zeitgeist Teatro Zuccone in Duluth.

The Parkwood Cinema Waite Park, just west of St. Cloud, is hosting twice daily "Vax Required" screenings of at least one title per week.

What if I'm going to Canada?

The Canadian government requires travelers to be vaccinated. But the CDC advised Jan. 10 against travel to Canada, citing its "very high levels" of the coronavirus. See CDC travel guidelines here.

Do I still need to get a flu shot?

Many officials and experts are urging the public: Do not dismiss the danger of the flu, and seek a flu vaccine. Read more here.

Are the vaccines approved by the FDA?

The U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer's vaccine on Aug. 23. The formula, jointly developed with Germany's BioNTech, will be marketed under the brand name Comirnaty.

Moderna has also applied to the FDA for full approval of its vaccine. Johnson & Johnson, maker of the third option in the U.S., said it hopes to do so later this year.

What is a COVID-19 vaccine "breakthrough" case?

It's when a fully vaccinated person gets infected with the coronavirus. While the vaccines are very good at protecting us, it's still possible to get infected with mild or no symptoms, or even to get very sick. If you do end up getting sick despite vaccination, experts say the shots help reduce the severity of the illness.

How can I tell if I have a breakthrough infection?

Most people will struggle to know for sure based on symptoms alone, without a nose swab to rule out the coronavirus. And if vaccinated people test less often, COVID infections could get dismissed as mild colds or go unnoticed.

British scientist Tim Spector, a founder of the ZOE app that tracks coronavirus symptoms, has said that people thinking they have colds when they really have COVID-19 could help fuel the pandemic. Read more here.

Are the vaccines safe?

A review of 6.2 million vaccine recipients in Minnesota and seven other U.S. regions found no significantly elevated rates of conditions such as stroke or heart attack immediately following COVID-19 vaccination. Bloomington-based HealthPartners participated in the study, which looked for elevated rates of 23 potential side effects in the first three weeks after people received Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Who qualifies for an extra shot?

Federal officials approved a third dose for those undergoing cancer treatment, who've received organ transplants or had other conditions that depress the body's immune system. These doses are not considered to be boosters.

Can kids get "long COVID" after coronavirus infections?

Yes, but studies indicate they're less likely than adults to be affected by symptoms that persist, recur or begin a month or more after infection.

A recently published U.K. study found about 4% of young children and teens had symptoms more than a month after getting infected. Fatigue, headaches and loss of smell were among the most common complaints and most were gone by two months. Coughing, chest pain and brain fog are among other long-term symptoms sometimes found in kids, and can occur even after mild infections or no initial symptoms.

Some studies have found higher rates of persisting symptoms than in the U.K. study.

Experts aren't sure what causes the long-term symptoms. In some cases, it could reflect organ damage caused by the initial infection. Or it could be a result of the virus and inflammation lingering in the body.

Kids can develop other rare problems after a coronavirus infection, including heart inflammation or a condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome. Because of the potential for long-term consequences, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends follow-up doctor visits after children recover from an initial coronavirus infection.

What about adults and long COVID?

About 30% of adult COVID-19 patients develop long-term symptoms, according to some estimates.

A new study of Long Beach residents found that one in three people who survived COVID-19 suffered from long COVID. There were higher rates among people 40 or older, women, people with preexisting health conditions and Black residents. Fatigue was reported by 17%; difficulty breathing and loss of taste or smell were reported by 13%; and muscle or joint pain was reported by 11%.

How do Pfizer and Moderna vaccines compare?

In a half-dozen studies, Moderna's vaccine appeared to be more protective over the long term than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

What is the Docket app?

Minnesota introduced the Docket app for viewing personal immunization records in response to rising demand — largely because of more COVID-19 vaccination requirements by employers and organizations. State leaders said this is not a prelude toward a COVID-19 vaccine passport or government vaccination requirement.

What are Minnesota K-12 schools doing?

The CDC recommended that people wear masks in K-12 schools and in counties with high or substantial levels of viral transmission.

State health and education officials are recommending — but not requiring — that Minnesota school districts mandate indoor mask wearing for all students and teachers this fall, whether or not they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Because Gov. Tim Walz no longer retains the emergency powers that allowed the state to mandate mask wearing earlier in the pandemic, decisions about masking, social distancing and other precautionary measures will be left to local school districts. Only two statewide requirements remain: Schools must report all confirmed COVID-19 cases to the state, and students and staff must wear masks while on school buses, in line with federal guidelines for public transportation.

Free COVID-19 testing kits will be offered to schools as will grant money to help with supplies and staffing support, state officials said.

The Minneapolis School District has become what's believed to be the first in the state to require unvaccinated high school athletes to be tested weekly for COVID-19.

Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district, has mandated masks for staff and students in kindergarten through sixth grade when county health department data reaches a particular threshold: at least 15 cases per 10,000 residents. Masks will be recommended, but not required, for students in grades 7 to 12 and staff and visitors working with those students.

A growing number of Minnesota districts, including St. Paul, Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, Osseo, Roseville, Duluth, St. Cloud and Edina, are requiring masks for everyone inside all school buildings. Others are requiring masks only for grade levels with students too young to qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine. That includes Mankato, Minnetonka and South Washington County schools.

Albert Lea Area Schools required masks for grades 6-12 after 36 cases of COVID-19 and 290 students in quarantine just five days after classes started on Aug. 19.

St. Paul Public Schools said a new online school initially designed for high schoolers will now include students from kindergarten through grade 12.

The Elk River district said in mid-July that masks would not be required, and did not make any specific recommendations. Wayzata's current back-to-school plan says masks are optional, but district officials said they are reviewing the new recommendations and will update families of any changes.

Other districts have specific plans for students too young to be vaccinated. In Rochester, school board members voted to require people under age 12 to wear masks. Mask wearing is recommended for older students and adults there, regardless of their vaccine status.

What are Minnesota colleges and universities doing about masks and vaccinations?

The University of Minnesota, University of St. Thomas, Hamline University, St. Catherine University, Macalester College, Augsburg University, Carleton College, St. Olaf College, the College of St. Benedict, St. John's University, Gustavus Adolphus College and the Mitchell Hamline School of Law will require vaccinations for students, joining hundreds of schools nationwide. Several schools are requiring boosters, including Macalester, St. Benedict and St. John's, Carleton and St. Olaf.

The University of Minnesota said all students, employees and visitors at its five campuses are required to wear masks indoors. Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra told presidents of the system's 37 colleges and universities they should reinstate indoor mask mandates if they are located in counties with high virus transmission. The system will require certain students — such as those living in dorms or on sports teams — to be vaccinated or tested regularly.

Are Minnesota employers bringing workers back to the office?

Some employers are delaying plans because of omicron. Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp had brought some workers back to the office, but it paused its plan to bring all employees back starting Jan. 10 in a hybrid model. Deluxe also postponed a new hybrid model for corporate employees. Ameriprise, which had required some office days starting in the fall, softened that stance for its 4,800 downtown workers. Securian was set for its 3,000 downtown St. Paul workers to start a hybrid work plan Feb. 1. Now, it is hoping that employees will be able to head back in March. Read more here.

Graco and Abbott Laboratories brought workers back, starting in the summer. On Nov. 22, several hundred of Ernst & Young's 800 Minneapolis workers showed up for their first day inside the accounting firm's space in the Dayton's Project building on Nicollet Mall. Graco said it has no plans to change its "no remote, no hybrid" work policy.

Companies with sizable downtown offices such as Target, Thrivent, Ernst & Young and Fredrikson & Byron say they have embraced a hybrid work model that will allow many office workers to return to the office part time and work remotely from home some days a week even after the pandemic ends. Target is creating "flex floors" at its Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park campuses and opening a new Eagan site for workers who want a transitional space to do in-person or virtual work.

No. 3 downtown Minneapolis employer Wells Fargo postponed a Jan. 10 return date and said it would communicate plans in the new year. Perkins & Will, an architecture firm with offices in the IDS Tower, also announced return-to-work delays.

Should pregnant women get the vaccine?

The CDC urged all pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine as hospitals around the U.S. see disturbing numbers of unvaccinated mothers-to-be seriously ill with the virus. Expectant women run a higher risk of severe illness and pregnancy complications from the coronavirus, including perhaps miscarriages and stillbirths.

A research study based on data from Bloomington-based HealthPartners and medical centers across the country finds that pregnant women who received COVID-19 vaccines did not experience an increased risk of miscarriage.

If you're thinking of getting pregnant, there's no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, influence your chances of getting pregnant despite a myth suggesting otherwise.

Do pregnant women who get vaccinated pass the protection to their babies?

Pregnant women who get mRNA vaccines pass high levels of antibodies to their babies, according to a study published in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology - Maternal Fetal Medicine on Sept. 22.

The study — one of the first to measure antibody levels in umbilical cord blood to distinguish whether immunity is from infection or vaccines — found that 36 newborns all had antibodies to protect against COVID-19 after their mothers were vaccinated with shots from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

What's the mu variant?

Since being discovered in Colombia in January, the mu variant has spread to nearly four dozen countries. Health officials believe mu is even more transmissible than the delta variant and has the potential to resist vaccines.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that health officials were maintaining a "close eye" on the mu variant despite it being "not at all even close" to becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S.

The U.S. saw its peak of mu variant cases in mid-July.

Correction: Previous versions of this story incorrectly described the Ramsey County Deputies’ Federation’s stance on a proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate for county employees. Previous versions of this story incorrectly stated the Capella Building requires masks.