9:45 A.M. UPDATE
It's official, Gov. Tim Walz, who will speak on the issue at 10 a.m., has ordered all Minnesota K-12 public schools close by this coming Wednesday, March 18 through Friday, March 27.
Health commissioner Jan Malcolm.
9:10 A.M. UPDATE
Still 50 minutes before Gov. Walz addresses how schools will handle the coronavirus outbreak, there are announcements coming from schools around Minnesota saying classes will be canceled beginning this Wednesday, March 18 through the following Friday, March 27.
Here's the message posted to Big Lake Public Schools' Facebook page, with that district's plans to close schools the next two weeks beginning Monday.
"Due to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation, Big Lake Schools will be closed starting Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 27. This includes Kids Club, Community Education classes, ECFE, all activities, etc.
"The Governor will announce this morning that he is shutting schools down starting Wednesday, March 18. Big Lake Schools will use Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the closure, including organizing any online learning plans for students.
"Further communication will be sent to parents as soon as it is available concerning student learning, breakfast/lunch support, etc. Staff should expect to receive additional communication later today."
Bring Me The News has confirmed the March 18-27 closing from two schools in greater Minnesota.
It appears to be an all-inclusive message for Minnesota schools, but that won't be confirmed until the governor speaks at 10 a.m. Check back for updates.
At 10 a.m. Sunday, Gov. Tim Walz will hold a news conference in which he's expected to release updated information about Minnesota schools amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The big question is if Walz will follow what more than a dozen other states have done, including Wisconsin, and close all K-12 schools in the state. No information was provided Saturday night when news of Walz's press conference was released. The governor will be joined at the conference by Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker.
The Department of Health on Thursday said that it was not advising schools shut down, citing the need to keep parents – particularly healthcare workers – at work, as well as noting that children are believed to be less at risk from the virus.
It did however recommend that sick students and staff should stay at home until they are symptom-free for at least one day, and urged schools to take steps to stop large gatherings and activities.
As of Saturday, there were 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number jumped from 14 Friday to 21 a day later, with a teenager among the seven new cases.
Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director with the health department, said Thursday that only approximately 2 percent of coronavirus cases are for people under the age of 19.
Additionally, the department noted that closing schools would mean interrupting the continuity of education, increasing the risk of students going without food and nutrition and other vital school services.
It's unclear how each district would respond to a closure, but a three-day teacher strike impacting more than 36,000 students of St. Paul Public Schools resulted in that district providing free breakfast and lunch, plus kid care services, at select schools. The teacher strike ended Friday, with students preparing to go back to school Monday.
Check back after Walz's press conference for the latest information.