IRON RANGE — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said it is “probably inevitable” that the state’s K-12 schools will remain closed after this week, and restrictions on dine-in traffic at restaurants and bars are also likely to be extended.
The closures and limitations went into effect last week as Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases, a respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, remained in the double-digits. The number of cases has more than quadrupled since the state Department of Health reported 54 cases March 16 to 235 reported Monday.
Limitations on bars and restaurants went into effect March 17 and schools closed on March 18. Both were set to run through this Friday, but Walz said on Monday that it seemed more than likely to continue, just how long is unknown.
The state of Virginia announced Monday that it would close schools for the rest of the academic year, leaving it up to the districts to direct alternative education for students. Walz said he thinks the state’s districts are well-prepared to do distance learning should in-person education cease this school year.
“We’ve considered everything,” the governor said Monday during a press briefing, crediting teachers for adapting and rising to the occasion. “As the situation evolves, it may need to become necessary to do that. We’re certainly considering everything.”
Most of the Iron Range schools spent the last week contingency planning for a distance-learning situation, including confronting the challenges of a regional shortage of broadband access in more rural areas and providing breakfast and lunches to students who may rely on it.
If the state doesn’t direct schools to reopen, distance learning measures will go into effect Monday, March 30.
Walz has been increasingly asked about using a more extreme measure of social distancing called shelter in place, which further restricts resident movements and would close non-essential businesses.
The step has been taken in New York, Illinois and most recently Michigan, among other states. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said Monday he would announce the details of a “stay-at-home” order Tuesday.
Walz said he continues to speak with other governors and agencies about the decision, but as of Monday said “the data and science show there is not a clear cut answer on this” and not total agreement around the decisions. “Shutting everything down for two weeks won’t work.”
A ‘shelter in place’ order in Minnesota, he added, would likely be more many weeks or months to achieve the desired effect of limiting the spread of COVID-19, and as more testing comes online in the state and nationally, governments are obtaining a clearer picture of the data and outcomes.
In the meantime, Walz said the state will continue to look at “real-time data” and weigh the potential impacts of long-term restrictions, as well as how effective current closures are on limiting spread.
“Now that we’re seeing that, we’re getting a clear picture,” the governor said. “It’s possible and probable we will come to the same conclusion. We are not prepared to do that, but we very well soon could be.”