Difficult decisions lie ahead for medical providers and political leaders as COVID-19 spreads in Minnesota and elsewhere. Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has provided an early example of how to think through these challenges and come up with solutions that balance competing interests.
On Sunday morning, Walz announced that the state’s K-12 schools will temporarily close this week and stay closed at least through March 27 to give educators time to prepare for an extended period of “distance learning” if necessary. At the same time, state officials thoughtfully avoided a troubling consequence: The closings could have created a major child-care challenge for many nurses, doctors, first responders and others on the front lines of combating this new strain of coronavirus.
The state’s schools, according to Walz’s new executive order, will stay open for the elementary-school-aged children of this vital workforce, ensuring that providers can continue reporting for work at this all-hands-on-deck time. That will avoid the need to tap grandparents or other retired relatives for day care when older adults are at high risk. It’s a smart plan and one we haven’t seen other states implement as schools have shut down. Hopefully, the Minnesota strategy will be a model for other states.
The need to balance these important interests drove decisionmaking on the school closure, Walz said Sunday. Other states, such as Ohio and Wisconsin, decided last week to do so. On Friday, Minnesota officials said they stood by the decision to keep schools open, citing guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on the limited impact school closure has containing the illness’s spread. Officials also cited the concerns about health care staff having to scramble for day care.
Walz and health officials said the option of keeping the schools open for medical workers addressed this major concern. School officials also made clear they needed to plan for longer-term distance learning. In this fluid situation, closing addressed those planning needs without compromising medical staffing, and the decision was made to go forward.
The decision to suspend classroom instruction is a serious one. It should send a signal to those still minimizing this new pathogen’s threat. There are too many reports of people not following “social distancing” guidelines. In particular, crowded bars and spring break beaches are a concern. Those who are young do not appear to be at high risk of becoming severely ill. Nevertheless, they may still be contagious and pass the illness on to those who are — older people or those with underlying health conditions.
As of early Sunday, there were 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota. One person remains hospitalized. Health officials say these numbers will surely rise in the weeks ahead, straining hospitals and clinics. Ensuring that their staff members will be able to concentrate on medical care without having to worry about child care will benefit all of us.