Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: August 17, 2020

Each day, we:

  • Track the status of reopening in all 50 states.
  • Compare the status of one industry or activity across the country.
  • Answer key questions about state school reopening plans.
  • Give you the latest stories on other reopening plans and ideas.

Want to know what happened Friday? Click here.

The next 24 hours

What is changing in the next 24 hours?

  • Illinois (Democratic trifecta): Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new mitigation measures for the state’s Metro East region (St. Louis suburbs), effective Aug. 18.

Since our last edition

What is open in each state? For a continually updated article on reopening status in all 50 states, click here. For our last edition, click here.

  • Alaska (divided government): Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) announced the state accepted President Donald Trump’s (R) partial extension of unemployment benefits. Alaska will pay $300 per week in unemployment benefits while the federal government provides an additional $300 per week.
  • Arizona (Republican trifecta): Beginning Aug. 17, school districts were allowed to reopen to in-person instruction if they meet metrics the state Department of Health released the week of Aug. 3. For a district to reopen, its county must have a two-week drop in the number of COVID-19 cases, a two-week period where the percent of positive cases is below 7%, and less than 10% of hospital visits must be COVID-19 related.
  • Georgia (Republican trifecta): On Aug. 15, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed an executive order allowing local governments to enact mask mandates. The order prevents local mandates from resulting in fines or penalties against private businesses or organizations and limits penalties against individuals to $50. State policy previously prevented local governments from issuing their own mandates. That policy led to a lawsuit between Kemp and the city of Atlanta. You can read more about that lawsuit here.
  • Michigan (divided government): The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) voted to cancel the fall football season. MHSAA President Mark Uyl said, “We have done everything possible to find that pathway forward for our football kids this fall and we simply ran out of time with the evidence to be able to do that safely.”
  • Nevada (Democratic trifecta): The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association announced that no school sports would be allowed to begin until January. Winter sports may begin a six-week season on Jan. 2, followed by fall sports (delayed from fall 2020), and then spring sports.
  • New Jersey (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Phil Murphy (D) issued an executive order requiring county election officials to send a mail-in ballot to all active registered voters.
  • North Carolina (divided government): Schools in the state were allowed to reopen beginning Aug. 17. Based on state guidelines, most K-12 districts will begin the year with at least some online learning.
  • Ohio (divided government): On Aug. 15, the Ohio Department of Health said the state would not allow face shields to be substituted for face masks in schools unless a child meets certain exceptions. The health department cited CDC guidance saying it is unknown how effective face shields are at protecting from respiratory droplets.
  • Oregon (Democratic trifecta): Malheur County in eastern Oregon moved from Phase 2 to Phase 1 on Aug. 17 by an executive order from Gov. Kate Brown (D). Malheur County is the third county Brown has returned to a previous phase due to a rise in coronavirus cases.
  • West Virginia (Republican trifecta): Gov. Jim Justice (R) announced a color-coded school reopening metric for counties. Schools in green and yellow counties will be able to reopen for in-person instruction on the statewide school reentry date (currently Sept. 8, but a finalized date may not be available until Sept. 1). Schools in red and orange phase counties will be required to conduct fully remote operations. Fifty-two out of the state’s 55 counties are currently in the green or yellow phases.

Tracking industries: Face coverings

All 50 states are reopening in some way. Here, we give the status of one industry or activity across the states. Today’s question: in which states must you wear a face covering in public?

We last looked at face coverings in the Aug. 10th edition of the newsletter. Since then, no new states have adopted a mask mandate or let a mask mandate expire. On Aug. 15, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed an executive order allowing local governments to enact mask mandates.

This is an in-depth summary of two state plans to reopen public K-12 schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21

On July 30, Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced the state’s guidelines for school reopening, the Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21. Walz stated, “As a classroom teacher for more than 20 years and a parent of a child in public schools, I am committed to providing a world-class education to our students while keeping them and their teachers safe. With this approach, we are pairing the knowledge and data from our Departments of Health and Education with the expertise of our local school districts to make the best decisions for our students across the state.”

Minnesota does not have a statewide date for public schools to reopen—individual districts that meet the state’s requirements can set their own timelines, depending on the virus’ effect on their community. According to EdWeek, public schools in Minnesota traditionally start the academic year after Labor Day, with the exact start date varying by district.

On March 15, Walz announced the closing of all K-12 schools in the state from March 18 to March 27. On March 25, Walz extended the closures until May 1. Walz closed schools for the remainder of the academic year on April 23.


Minnesota has a divided government. The governor is a Democrat, and Democrats have a majority in the state House while Republicans have a majority in the state Senate. The state has had a divided government since 2015.

The following tables show public education statistics in Minnesota, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Minnesota public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $16,145 15
Number of students (’18-’19) 889,294 21
Number of teachers (’16-17) 56,715 20
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 2,555 11
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 15.4 21
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 37.7% 45
Minnesota public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $12,183,690,000 16
Percent from federal sources 5.7% 44
Percent from state sources 66.7% 5
Percent from local sources 27.5% 43


District reopening plans

Districts are responsible for developing their own reopening plans in coordination with local health departments. The guidance does not say whether the plans must be posted publicly.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

Local school districts determine the specific model for learning. That decision must be based on health data and made in coordination with state guidelines. School districts are given the base model for the type of instruction from the state based on the county’s health data for the previous two weeks. The guidance document specifies which model is required based on the data:

Number of cases per 10,000 over 14 days, by county of residence Learning Model
0-9 In-person learning for all students
10-19 In-person learning for elementary students; hybrid learning for secondary students
20-29 Hybrid learning for all students
30-49 Hybrid learning for elementary students; distance learning for secondary students
50+ Distance learning for all students

Schools are then required to consult with local public health officials and choose a model for the start of the year. Individual districts can decline or limit in-person instruction at their own discretion, even if the state’s guidelines permit it. After the year begins, schools are to monitor the local health data to determine if a change in learning model is required.

All students also have the option to attend virtually. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, “Regardless of which learning model is being implemented at the school building, all school districts and charter schools must offer an equitable distance learning model to all families who choose not to attend in-person learning due to medical risks or other safety concerns.”

Mask requirements

All faculty, staff, and students are required to wear face coverings, with exceptions for children under the age of five and those with documented disabilities that make wearing a face covering unreasonable. The state will provide one cloth mask for every teacher, staff member, and student in public schools.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

When learning is done in person, all schools are required to have a preparedness plan that addresses health and safety practices. The state’s guidance document does not provide specific requirements, but it does say each school’s preparedness plan should address the following:

  • Maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet between people,
  • Meeting face covering requirements,
  • Cleaning of high-touch surfaces throughout the day,
  • Limiting nonessential visitors, volunteers, or external groups,
  • Incorporating hygiene education and routines,
  • Discontinuing large gatherings or activities that do not allow for social distancing,
  • Monitoring the health of students and staff while following an exclusion policy for those with COVID-19 symptoms, and
  • Requiring personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff who provide direct support services.

The state’s planning guide encourages the use of playground equipment if six feet of physical distancing is possible. The state also requires markers on the floor in high traffic areas to encourage distancing and requires that schools discontinue self-service of food in cafeterias.

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 or comes in close contact with someone who has tested positive, they must quarantine for 14 days. School districts are required to develop a testing and response strategy with local public health officials to determine the best practices for responding to positive cases and symptomatic students.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

The plan requires all students and staff to wear face coverings while on school transportation. If a school is operating under a hybrid model with social distancing requirements, buses are limited to 50% capacity, according to the state’s planning guide for schools.


After the plan was unveiled, Deb Henton, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said, “I do believe that our educators in the state are going to be happy with the decision. Some school districts are going to have to be in the full-on distance learning mode that they may not have wanted to be in, but they understand.”

Wisconsin’s Education Forward

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released Education Forward, its guidance document for school reopening, on June 22. State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said, “The next school year will be likely be [sic] different from the learning environment students and teachers have grown accustomed to. Education Forward is meant to provide information for educators and school officials as they make decisions regarding their school operations to keep all students and staff safe while learning.”

On July 7, Gov.Tony Evers (D) said the state’s plan allows local districts to make reopening decisions they feel are right for their communities. He told The Capital Times, “It’s important for school districts and parents and kids to be prepared but at the end of the day, I would not consider a district who offers a hybrid where it’s partially in school, partially online to be failing in their responsibilities. They have to make that decision locally.”

Wisconsin does not have a statewide date for public schools to reopen—individual districts that meet the state’s requirements can set their own timelines. According to EdWeek, public schools in Wisconsin typically start the academic year on September 1 or later, with the exact start date varying by district.

On March 13, Evers closed all K-12 schools across the state from March 18 through April 5. He extended the closure indefinitely on March 17 before closing them for the remainder of the year on April 16.


Wisconsin has a divided government. The governor is a Democrat, and Republicans have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state has had a divided government since 2019.

The following tables show public education statistics in Wisconsin, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Wisconsin public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $13,739 22
Number of students (’18-’19) 859,329 22
Number of teachers (’16-17) 59,011 18
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 2,274 16
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 14.5 30
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 37.4% 46
Wisconsin public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $11,197,990,000 19
Percent from federal sources 7.5% 35
Percent from state sources 45.9% 27
Percent from local sources 46.6% 20


District reopening plans

The Education Forward guidance document is not binding on local districts, which are responsible for developing their own specific reopening plans.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

The guidance document outlines all-remote, physically distanced (hybrid), and full-time in-person learning options for localities to consider. School districts are allowed to determine and implement the best learning model for their community’s needs. In-person learning, according to the plan, is defined as a situation where “the vast majority of students attend in-person. Some students (those with health concerns) may participate virtually on an as-needed basis.” In the physically distanced learning model, “learning occurs both in-person and virtually, utilizing classrooms, outdoor learning spaces, homes, and community-based organizations.” The virtual learning option allows education to take place completely remotely “using digital, analog, synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid instructional models.”

Mask requirements

The plan recommends teachers, staff, and students wear masks whenever feasible—face coverings are not required.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

For in-person learning, the guidance document recommends physical distancing of six feet or more. The document also recommends schools implement daily health screenings and temperature checks. To reduce traffic and keep students physically distanced, the guidelines recommend modifications to collective lunch times (staggering lunch times, choosing alternative spaces to eat, or implementing a lunch delivery to classrooms). The plan also recommends districts and schools stagger recess, arrival, and departure times. The document recommends schools adopt their own policies and procedures to comply with local social distancing ordinances.

The document says schools are responsible for informing local public health officials when students or faculty test positive for or exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

The guidance document does not offer specific recommendations for transportation and busing. It does say districts should “collaborate with transportation vendors to implement a busing plan meeting social distancing requirements, if necessary. Include a plan for pick-up, in-transit, drop off, and cleaning and disinfection protocols.”


The Wisconsin Education Association Council said local teachers should be involved in school and district decision-making. On Aug. 1, WEAC President Ron Martin said, “WEAC believes any plan for reopening schools must ensure the health and safety of our students and staff and also prioritize long-term strategies on student learning and educational equity. We must have the time and resources to reopen safely… but that requires funding. WEAC restates our stance that all decisions must be guided by science. We want nothing more than to be back at school with our students, but we can only be there safely when the Badger Bounce Back benchmarks are met.”

Additional activity

In this section, we feature examples of other federal, state, and local government activity, as well as influencers relevant to recovering from the pandemic.

  • On Aug. 11, three families filed suit in Washington’s Thurston County Superior Court, arguing that the state’s remote education plans, implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, deny their special needs children the right to a basic education. The plaintiffs allege violations of Article IX, Sections 1 and 2, of the Washington Constitution, which guarantee all students a basic education, and the Basic Education Act, which requires an annual average of at least 1,000 to 1,080 instructional hours over the course of at least 180 school days. The plaintiffs allege the state’s approved instruction methods are “inaccessible to those students with disabilities who need intense support in order to learn and make progress,” and infringe on their right to a basic education. Randy Spaulding, the executive director of the State Board of Education said, “The State Board believes it has acted in a legal and appropriate manner in this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced he is limiting attendees at Mississippi K-12 sporting and extracurricular events to two spectators for each student participating.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced it was switching to fully remote instruction, effective immediately. Since in-person instruction began on Aug. 10, four separate clusters of coronavirus spread were identified.