Walz expects COVID-19 case spike as Minnesota schools reopen

January 3, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Coronavirus cases due to the fast-spreading omicron variant will most likely race through Minnesota’s public schools in the next few weeks now that students are back in class, Gov. Tim Walz said Monday, echoing the concerns of school administrators across the state.

“They’re right to be concerned,” Walz said in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio. He noted that modeling by the Mayo Clinic predicts a spike peaking around the third week of January, which will impact already-strained staffing. “We already know that subs are in short supply. It is a challenge.”

Bob Indihar, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, told MPR earlier that school superintendents are “nervous about omicron.” Some Minnesota school districts closed early for the winter holidays to try to mitigate the spread and give some relieve to stressed-out teachers and staff.

Across the country, schools are adapting to the surge. Mask requirements are returning in some school districts that had dropped them. Some are ramping up virus testing among students and staff. And a few school systems are returning to remote learning.

Walz said the best ways to help schools stay open are for people to get vaccinated and boosted, get tested and wear masks in public places.

“We’re not helpless in this.” he said. “We have the tools necessary to slow the spread of this.”

Walz is back at work after he, his wife and 15-year-old son tested positive and developed mild-to-moderate symptoms in late December. But because they were in quarantine, he said, their college-age daughter was not able to spend Christmas with them and stayed with relatives instead. He said they’ve all tested negative since then.

The governor said in a separate interview with WCCO Radio that Minnesota’s efforts to ramp up testing will be complicated by President Joe Biden’s announcement just before Christmas that the federal government will provide 500 million free at-home rapid test kits. He said that’s a good move, but said it’s affecting Minnesota’s existing supply chains. He said Minnesota is still in better shape than other states, but acknowledged that testing availability is tight, and he thanked people for being patient.

“Don’t give up on this.” Walz told WCCO. “Testing is the real key, along with the boosters, to helping stop the spread.”

The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 6,780 new cases and 48 new deaths to raise the state’s totals to 1,028,986 cases, including re-infections, and 10,564 deaths since the pandemic reached the state in March 2020. More than 3.5 million Minnesotans age 5 or older have completed their vaccine series, or about 72% of the state’s eligible population.