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Walz ends on-site school year, but lets some businesses reopen

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year, but stay-at-home restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be eased to allow up to 100,000 people return to work next week, the governor said Thursday.
Gov. Tim Walz, a former high school teacher and coach, said he took “no joy” in keeping schools closed, and that he doesn’t know about fall classes yet. He offered some comfort to seniors, saying he believed that the Class of 2020 will not be defined by missing proms and graduation ceremonies.
“You will be defined by understanding how interconnected our world is, and what it means to come together to try and solve hard problems. … This ties you together in a way that has not been ever seen,” he said.
The governor closed public and charter schools just over a month ago and directed them to switch to distance learning, affecting nearly 900,000 students and their families. His order had been due to expire next Thursday. He also made it clear Thursday that his stay-at-home order, which is due to expire May 4, will mostly stay in place for now.
But Walz and Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove also outlined an approach for gradually loosening restrictions on businesses. Minnesotans who work at some 20,000 industrial, manufacturing and office settings that don’t face the public can return to work Monday, though any retail stores they run generally must remain closed.
Those companies are still encouraged to allow as much working from home as possible, Grove said.
Before reopening, they must develop plans to monitor and protect their employees’ health, including new sanitation and cleaning procedures. Among the more than 500,000 Minnesotans who have applied for unemployment insurance since March 16, those who now can return to work must do so, with exceptions for those who must care for children or other loved ones, and those who are vulnerable to infection, he said.
Among the businesses that will gradually reopen under the new rules is Riedell Skates in Red Wing.
“We’ve done all that’s been asked by our governor, and now we’re extremely excited, almost to tears,” said Bob Riegelman, president of the manufacturing company founded by his grandparents 75 years ago.
Minnesota’s death toll hit 200 on Thursday, including 21 new deaths, the highest toll yet in a single day, the state health department reported. The department also reported 221 new confirmed cases, another one-day high, raising Minnesota’s total to 2,942.
Health officials say the real number of Minnesotans infected with the coronavirus is likely much higher because most people don’t qualify for testing, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. Walz said the new case numbers will climb as the state implements the plan he outlined Wednesday for increasing testing capacity to up to 20,000 per day through a partnership with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.
Walz also said it would be “a hard lift” to allow the Minnesota State Fair to proceed, though he didn’t rule it out. It’s scheduled to run from Aug. 27 through Labor Day. General Manager Jerry Hammer told the Star Tribune earlier Thursday that no decision will be made to cancel the fair until it’s necessary.
Walz said the thought of calling it off was painful, but added that it was hard to imagine how to maintain sufficient social distancing at an event that packs so many visitors into such tight quarters.