Minnesota governor says graduation ceremony ban was painful
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota essentially banned large-scale high school and college graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 on Friday to limit the spread of the coronavirus, dashing the spirits of students who had been holding out hope for traditional pomp and circumstance.
The Minnesota Department of Education and the Office of Higher Education issued guidance saying indoor graduations and ceremonies held outside in stadiums and on football fields are not permitted. The agencies are encouraging schools to hold online events instead.
Gov. Tim Walz, a former high school teacher, called it a painful decision but said he said he must rely on what the health experts are telling him.
“We are trying our best to make sure that we are striking that proper balance between public health and these important social milestones,” Walz said during his daily briefing for reporters.
Education officials announced the decision on a day when Minnesota surpassed 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases — a figure health officials acknowledge is an undercount because not everyone who has been infected gets tested and many don’t show symptoms. State and public health labs also surpassed 100,000 completed tests.
Minnesota’s death toll from COVID-19 rose by 26 to 534 as of Friday, while the confirmed case count rose by 723 to 10,088. the Minnesota Department of Health reported. The number of patients hospitalized with the virus rose by 38 to 473, with a new high of 198 in intensive care, up 16 from Thursday.
Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly confirmed during the governor’s briefing that the state plans to spend $6.9 million to buy a warehouse to temporarily store bodies of coronavirus victims until their families are ready to lay them to rest. He would not disclose the location because negotiations are continuing.
“It’s an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people, but we need to have a capability, we need to have a plan, for a large number of deaths,” Kelly said. He pointed out that Italy and New York City had to bury people in temporary or shallow graves. Due to a slowdown in funerals and burials in Minnesota, he said, storage space in some funeral homes and hospitals is already “full and overflowing.”
Heath Commissioner Jan Malcolm expressed sympathy for students and families who won’t get traditional graduation ceremonies, but said the case numbers are only going to grow faster, so her guidance remains that people should not gather in groups outside of their immediate households — and that includes graduation parties.
“The class of 2020 persisted in their education through this unprecedented and uncertain time, with a school experience that was difficult to navigate for all of us,” Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker told reporters earlier Friday.
While the guidance isn’t totally binding, it builds off executive orders from Walz, including his stay-at-home order, and the state’s guidance against large gatherings. Ricker and Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson said they were unaware of any schools that plan to violate the guidance. Most colleges and universities had already announced plans for virtual ceremonies.
The guidance also lists steps for schools to take if they decide to celebrate with car parades or parking lot ceremonies. Each household should be in a separate car, meaning no carpooling. Attendees should stay in their cars. While they can park next to each other if they keep the windows up for the entire ceremony, they should park 6 feet apart if windows are down.
Events should be brief, without food, beverages or bathrooms. And graduates should not throw their caps in the air because that might encourage them to leave their vehicles.