Walz proposes banking most of surplus over COVID-19 fears

Gov. Tim Walz holds up his supplemental budget on Thursday, March 12, 2020, which is scaled back due to the unexpected demand for spending on the coronavirus response. The Governors press conferences are now being live streamed on Facebook Live along with ASL interpreters in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The Governor is exploring new ways to continue to communicate with Minnesotans, even if access to the Capitol is scaled back.

In a time of rapid changes and uncertainty, one thing was clear Friday as Gov. Tim Walz, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Attorney General Keith Ellison spoke to reporters: Minnesota officials are concerned, but not panicking over the growing spread of COVID-19.

With five new cases confirmed from Thursday’s daily briefing, the state’s numbers of patients are on an upward trajectory and likely far from peaking.

The measured approach state leaders have taken during this time is not only commendable, but has shown to be well-thought out.

Case in point, with a shortage of child care options without a global pandemic on hand, the state has resisted the calls to close down in-person K-12 classes. People under 19 years old also make up around 2 percent of the worldwide confirmed cases.

Those are important points to note. During Friday’s news conference Walz said around 35 percent of parents of school-aged children work in the state’s health care industry, and closing schools would force many of those workers to stay at home during a time when they’re most needed.

With cases still at the beginning point of the arc, losing critical health care workers could be disastrous to the state’s response to COVID-19 by understaffing the private sector health care industry.

Walz issued an executive order Friday with Minnesota Health Department issuing a set of guidelines for schools, workplaces and the general public, all common sense measures that they hope will flatten the curve of COVID-19’s spread and peak.

Credit also goes to the Legislature and local school districts on the Iron Range.

Bipartisan efforts to fund a COVID-19 response have flown through the House and Senate, with more potential bills on the way in the coming weeks. Walz himself drew from common sense by issuing a budget that looked to hoard most of the state’s $1.5 billion surplus in light of the coronavirus.

As it did last year, Minnesota’s divided-party Legislature is leading and getting the job done to this point.

The same goes for our local districts, who are implementing Health Department and Center for Disease Control guidelines within the schools. On Thursday, Virginia Public School issued a detailed contingency plan for parents in the event face-to-face education needs to be paused.

Much of that plan consisted of iPad learning and providing WiFi access outside of the school buildings for students that don’t have access at home.

One challenge that lies ahead for the state and local districts is how to provide meals and nutrition to low-income students that rely on going to school everyday for those meals. Perhaps partnerships with the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota and local food shelves could help fill that need on the Iron Range.

In any case, the reasoned response by state and local officials have kept Minnesotans informed and instilled a sense of calm in a situation that could be completely chaotic, which is exactly what we elect our leaders to do.

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