Two big coronavirus-based decisions for Minnesotans are looming and Gov. Tim Walz expects to announce both within the very near future.
Speaking with Dave Lee on WCCO Radio Wednesday morning, Walz said a plan for the 2020-21 school year will be made "within the next two weeks," while he continues to debate what to do about a possible mask mandate in Minnesota.
"Distance learning is not for everyone. I know that you gotta get those kids into the classroom. The challenge here is to do it safely, to keep them in there, to keep the teachers and the support staff safe," Walz said.
The Minnesota Department of Education is expected to announce plans for the upcoming school by a July 27 deadline, though Walz says the "sooner the better" as Minnesota families anxiously wait to find out which of three scenarios will be selected:
- In-person: Students learn at school with social distancing measures in place.
- Hybrid: Combination of distance learning and in-person classes with schools limited to 50 percent capacity.
- Distance learning: 100 percent digital learning from home, just as the 2019-20 school year ended.
"The folks who are saying 'Get back into school,' including the president, they're not wrong. We absolutely need to get these kids back in there. The question is, how do we do it?" Walz said.
Minnesota is among 18 states currently with a positive test rate for COVID-19 that is below 5 percent over the past seven days, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The World Health Organization advises that the safest way to keep businesses open is to keep that rate at 5 percent or lower for 14 days. As Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said recently, going above 5 percent "indicates that you may be heading back into a phase of more rapid spread of the disease."
"As this thing [COVID-19] re-emerged and the hot spots started to grow again over the last few weeks, you have to continue to evolve on how your thinking goes," said Walz. "I still think we're fairly stable here. I think there's things that we can do a little bit better to slow transmission."
Walz: Need more people to wear masks
The other big decision that Walz continues to consider is a statewide mask mandate, though he has previously mentioned that one of the aspects of such a mandate is if it's necessary in locations in the Minnesota where the virus is less intrusive.
"We're looking at it, and I get it, it's a very American trait to be very independent about things, but I just wish this face mask thing hadn't got so politicized," said Walz. "You know, those signs of no shoes, no shirt, no service, I don't see anybody complaining about that much and the fact of the matter is face masks slow the spread of this."
"I've been trying to encourage people to voluntarily do it," he added. "We're still having a bit of trouble with that, so I say candidly we're certainly exploring it. I'm getting a lot of calls from a lot of different sectors, certainly the healthcare sector, but the business sector saying 'just make it easier for us, make the state mandate and we don't have to be the mask police at the door.' People get it."
Walz said that wearing a mask is "more effective than any lockdown that I can do or any of these other changes. It really makes a difference."