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MN teacher's union: Follow new COVID-19 guidelines to keep schools open

"It’s time for every Minnesotan to mask up, keep their distance and avoid crowds.”

The Minnesota teacher's union is urging people to follow the new COVID-19 restrictions in order to keep each other safe and schools open. 

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday night announced a slew of new restrictions in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota, which is overwhelming hospitals and forcing many schools to shift to full-time distance learning. 

“Everyone wants to slow the spread of the virus before our hospitals, schools and other institutions we all depend on are overwhelmed,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said in a statement. 

“The number of educators who are sick or in quarantine is already forcing some school buildings to close completely," Specht added. "The rest of us fear we will be next. It’s time for every Minnesotan to mask up, keep their distance and avoid crowds.”

Since Aug. 1, 6,335 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported among students (3,339 cases) and staff (3,016 cases) who were in a preK-12 school building while they were able to spread the virus, the Minnesota Department of Health reported on Nov. 19. Thus far, 1,674 school buildings in the state have seen cases. 

The governor's new restrictions are a four-week "pause" on in-person dining at bars and restaurants, social gatherings with people outside of your household, organized sports, celebrations/parties, and gyms/recreation facilities. 

"If we’re able, we can order takeout from local restaurants and maintain our gym memberships. It’s time to think of your neighbors and do whatever we can," Specht said. "Minnesotans have been through tough times before. We can get through this together.”

The executive order does not impact guidelines for schools on when they should shift learning models.

The state's Safe Learning plan calls for schools to switch to full-time distance learning for all grades if the county's 14-day case rate per 10,000 people reaches 50 or more. As of Nov. 19, 83 of Minnesota's 87 counties were above that threshold. 

“The experts in public health have said what we need to do, but it’s up to each of us to make it work,” Specht said. “We can support school boards and superintendents when they make the tough choice to follow the rules — and hold them accountable when they don’t."

According to the Minnesota Department of Education's Safe Learning Model Dashboard, 13% of districts are doing in-person learning, 13% are doing hybrid, 31% are at full-time distance learning and 43% are doing some combination of learning models. 

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Specht, in a statement to Bring Me The News, said some school boards continue to ignore official guidance about when to move to full-time distance learning. 

"There will be consequences at the ballot box for elected officials who put wishful thinking ahead of hard science and make decisions that put their employees, students and communities at unnecessary risk," Specht added. "By ignoring the warnings and denying the math, these elected officials are increasing the chances that their local hospitals will be overwhelmed and their neighbors who are sick won’t get the treatment they need."

Instead, she said elected officials need to be willing to make "choices that upset a few of their constituents if it means keeping the whole community safer." 

"It's time to come together, follow the rules and help each other through this," Specht said.

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