Most group activities in area canceled due to health concerns

By: 
David Phillips

Life has changed dramatically over the past week across the United States, affecting most every group activity, including those in the Spring Valley area, in an attempt to mitigate the spread of covid-19, a disease caused by a coronavirus that has infiltrated populations across the globe.

Locally, many church services Sunday were canceled, concerts are being postponed, care centers have restricted access, community dinners have been called off and most any other event involving a group of people has been shelved. The Tribune can’t keep up with the announcements due to the number and because the status changes daily, but residents can assume that most any group activity in the next few weeks is off.

As of March 15, Minnesota had 54 positive tests for covid-19 out of 1,893 people tested. Two of the positive tests were in Olmsted County, although it appears both were infected elsewhere.

Sunday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that schools across the state will be required to temporarily close by Wednesday, March 18, to come up with plans to resume school Monday, March 30, in some form.

In a letter to parents Sunday, Kingsland Superintendent Jim Hecimovich said that Kingsland was holding classes as usual Monday and Tuesday. This will provide an opportunity for students to meet with teachers prior to the school closure and gather necessary materials for any potential distance learning activities going forward, he noted.

School age child care (SACC) will remain open to registered families and children of emergency and health workers from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. School breakfast and lunch programs will be available only to students attending SACC during this time, but should the school closure extend beyond March 30, plans will be communicated to provide meals to students in need at that time.

“The purpose of this school closure for students is to provide time for Kingsland Public Schools administration, teachers, and support staff to plan to provide meaningful distance learning and other critical services to students in the event of an extended school closure should we need to close schools statewide for a longer period of time due to the covid-19 pandemic,” Hecimovich wrote. “Starting March 30, per the instruction from the Minnesota Department of Education, student learning will continue for the rest of the school year, either remotely and/or in person.”

During the temporary closure, there will be no e-learning, but educators will give “thoughtful planning to our distance learning plan,” he wrote. That distance learning plan will likely look different than the e-learning set up for inclement weather, he added.

Updates will be available on the school website. Also, the School Board held a special meeting Monday evening after this edition went to press.

The governor signed executive order 20-02 Sunday authorizing the temporary closure of Minnesota K-12 public schools to students in order for school administrators and teachers to make long-term plans for the continuity of education and essential services during the covid-19 pandemic. The closure will accommodate planning between school staff, teachers, and administrators with guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health.

“My top priority as governor is the safety of Minnesotans. As a former teacher, and father of two teenage kids, I’m especially focused on the safety of our children,” said Walz. “I am ordering the temporary closure of schools so educators can make plans to provide a safe learning environment for all Minnesota students during this pandemic. Closing schools is never an easy decision, but we need to make sure we have plans in place to educate and feed our kids regardless of what’s to come.”

Executive order 20-02 requires schools to provide care for elementary-age children of health care professionals, first responders, and other emergency workers during previously planned school days to ensure Minnesota’s first line of defense against covid-19 can stay on the job.

The executive order also makes provisions for the continuity of mental health services and requires schools to continue providing meals to students in need.

Prior to the school closing order, Walz signed executive order 20-01 declaring a peacetime emergency in Minnesota and unveiled legislative proposals to prepare for the covid-19 pandemic. These actions came in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Health announcing new community mitigation strategies to limit the spread of the virus.

“I am declaring a peacetime emergency in Minnesota to ensure the state is able to respond more rapidly to issues as they arrive,” Walz said. “We’re looking to the future and preparing for the next chapters of this pandemic as it continues to evolve.”

The World Health Organization recently declared covid-19 a pandemic and over the past week there has been an increased number of cases in Minnesota.

In addition to washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough, and staying home when you’re sick, community mitigation strategies issued by Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm includes:

• Cancel or postpone large events in excess of 250 people gathered together;

• ensure space for social distancing of six feet per person at smaller events and gatherings (less than 250 people);

• and limit gatherings with participants at high risk for severe disease to less than 10 people.

In addition to declaring a peacetime state of emergency, Walz also unveiled a package of legislative proposals to better prepare the state’s health care system and provide relief to Minnesotans affected by the covid-19 pandemic. The governor is requesting immediate assistance from the Legislature in creating a covid emergency fund, removing financial barriers for Minnesotans who need to be tested, expanding the use of paid sick time, and providing long-term care facilities with more resources, among other recommendations.