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Walz calls for vaccine and testing requirements for teachers

The governor penned a plea to Minnesota lawmakers asking for more masking, testing and a possible special session.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz is calling on lawmakers to approve a series of new measures to respond to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccine and testing requirements for teachers and school staff, and for long-term care workers.

The Democratic governor detailed his proposal in a letter to lawmakers that he released after meeting privately with legislative leaders. Walz urged them to approve the measures during a special session that was originally envisioned for last month to approve a $250 million bonus package for frontline workers who risked their lives in the pandemic. 

Negotiations on that plan have yet to produce an agreement.

One of the items on the governor's list includes measures to keep as many students as possible learning in-person. This includes notifying parents when there's a COVID case reported at their child's school, isolating and quarantining affected students, offering COVID testing and participating in masking. 

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"As in past situations requiring a special session, I stand ready to call a special session as soon as we reach an agreement. I urge you to act quickly so that together we can take swift action on these important issues," Walz wrote. 

Currently, both Minneapolis Public Schools and Saint Paul Public Schools require staff members to have a COVID vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Anoka-Hennepin, the largest school district in the state, does not require a COVID vaccine.  

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As of last Friday, there were 232 schools across Minnesota reporting COVID outbreaks, up from 96 the previous week. The increase in outbreaks and cases seen by schools prompted the state to extend the deadline for federal funding for COVID testing to Oct. 15. There is $55 million available, but only 44% of schools have applied for the funds, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

The governor's letter to lawmakers also calls for measures to address hospital capacity, rising COVID cases in nursing homes and payments for child care providers.

In addition to escalating the state's pandemic response, Walz also advocated for bonus pay for Minnesota's frontline workers, and a package to aid farmers following this summer's drought. 

You can read the full letter from Gov. Walz to lawmakers here.  

As negotiations continued Wednesday, Walz and Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller visited a Ramsey County school in an effort to highlight the need for COVID testing programs.

Walz said school COVID-19 measures like rapid testing and social distancing will keep kids in the classroom. He and Mueller said grants are available for schools. 

"There's still money out there for them to apply for," Walz said at the visit. 

Mueller added that schools that want logistical help with testing programs can contact the Department of Education. She said it's essential to keep kids in classrooms. 

"We need them to be here," Mueller said. 

You can watch the full press conference on KARE 11's YouTube page.