Gov. Tim Walz made official Thursday what Minnesota families suspected was coming: Schools throughout the state will remain closed for the dwindling weeks remaining in the 2019-20 academic year.
Minnesota had been one of the holdouts nationally on announcing this move for K-12 students. Thirty-nine other states, included regional neighbors Iowa and Wisconsin, had already done so, affecting about 42 million students, according to Education Week. The decision to add Minnesota to the list prioritizes public health, even if it is accompanied by a dose of heartache.
Distance learning will continue in Minnesota, but some kids are probably getting less of an education at home, especially those in low-income families where technology is sketchy or nonexistent. Nor are online connections the same as seeing teachers and friends in person.
Sympathies are especially in order for 2020’s graduating seniors. An early and hard lesson about life’s ups and downs has come as they were anticipating hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” played just for them. In many neighborhoods across the Twin Cities, signs are popping up in individual yards honoring 2020 graduates. To those responsible, thank you. It’s a creative and much-needed salute to those who are missing out on so much during these last weeks of high school.
The school decision also acknowledges it’s just not practical to send students and staff back for just a few weeks. Getting the bus system back up and running would have taken time. The same is true for asking teachers and administrators to suddenly shift again, this time away from the distance learning plans they rushed to implement.
Many parents, teachers and staff may also have stayed away if the schools had opened. National polling shows a majority of Americans think stay-at-home orders and social-distancing practices are needed. This patience and support will be tested in the weeks and months ahead. As University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm warned this week, we are in the early innings when it comes to matching up against COVID-19.
Still, details are needed about what the path back toward some semblance of normalcy will look like. This week brought welcome developments on this front.
On Wednesday came a formal announcement that Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota will collaborate on COVID-19 testing capacity. Together, they soon will be able to run 20,000 diagnostic tests per day, a significant breakthrough when roughly 49,000 of such tests have been completed in the state since the pandemic’s beginning.
The agreement is a welcome sign that these two influential health care systems, competitors in normal times, can partner to help the state track and contain this virus. In contrast, an exasperated New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had to effectively merge 200 state hospitals into one system.
Minnesota’s new testing capacity provides the scientific foundation for state officials to detect hot spots, test workers and wield this information to get people back to work and normal life without jeopardizing public health. On Thursday, Walz provided a look at the guidelines the state will rely on.
Again, it will take time to figure how to test that many people and work out other details. But Walz’s announcement that about 100,000 Minnesotans in “non-customer-facing” industrial and office jobs can go back to work on Monday signals a new stage for the state. The success of that move will depend on businesses stepping up to protect employees through smart, tailored workplace strategies.
The targeted easing of restrictions, dubbed “turning the dial,” rather than setting a date to lift them all is a sensible approach, especially when it’s backed by the new testing capacity of the state’s medical powerhouses. More fine-tuning is in order, but Minnesota’s path forward is becoming clearer.