Minnesota health commissioner urges universal masking in schools

State Republicans have not been happy with her pandemic leadership — and she could lose her job if the Senate rejects her confirmation.

Gov. Tim Walz and Department of Health Commissioner speak at a press conference during the early stages of the pandemic. (Minnesota Governor's Office/YouTube)

Almost two years after the beginning of the pandemic, Minnesota’s top health official is urging school administrators to enact universal mask mandates.

Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, wrote a letter to superintendents and school boards throughout the state expressing concern with “high levels of COVID-19 in Minnesota school children.”

Sent out on Monday, Malcolm’s letter underscored the importance of in-person classes after many months of virtual learning, but continued COVID transmission will put children and staff at “undue risk” if mitigation strategies aren’t in place.

Hence the commissioner recommended universal masking, social distancing, testing of unvaccinated individuals, and, of course, pushing children and staff to get vaccinated.

“The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and MDH all recommend universal masking in all K-12 schools. The vaccine protects well against severe disease including hospitalization and death,” said Malcolm.

Other recommended provisions included contact tracing, enforced quarantine for the sick, ventilation improvements, regular handwashing and disinfection of surfaces, and “respiratory etiquette.”

“We know it can be challenging to implement these measures. However, the adoption of these multilayered strategies will give our children the best chance for a safer in-person school year with fewer interruptions,” the letter concluded.

Although Malcolm has been serving as health commissioner since Jan. 2018, she has technically never been confirmed to her post by the Minnesota Senate, which is controlled by the GOP.

On top of that, state Republicans have not been happy with her pandemic leadership — and she could lose her job if the Senate rejects her confirmation.

According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Malcolm met with Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller on Friday morning. Miller said he and Malcolm have never met before.

“I thought it was important for us to get to know each other. In addition to getting to know her, I want to share some of those concerns that I’ve heard from my constituents […] We may not always agree, but we can still have a line of communication,” he told the paper ahead of the meeting.

“Many Minnesotans feel like they’ve been completely shut out of the [pandemic response] process […] I want to have a discussion. I want to share the concerns and I think it’s important to share the concerns and to hear her thought process.”