Axios Twin Cities

Picture of the Twin Cities skyline with MSP written across it.

Hello and thanks for starting your week with us!

  • It's the cold dog days of winter: forecast calls for a high near 3 and wind chills as low as -25.

🗳 Situational awareness: The newly elected Minneapolis City Council will pick a new president today.

  • Council member Andrea Jenkins is seen as the favorite for the post, but several are vying for vice president.

Today's newsletter is 901 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The classroom crunch

Illustration of a teacher's chalkboard with "Now Hiring" written across it.
Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

School districts across the Twin Cities are struggling to keep their classrooms staffed due to a teacher shortage exacerbated by rising COVID infections.

Why it matters: Schools are getting creative to staff classrooms, upping pay for substitutes, using support staff as fill-ins and paying teachers to cover for their colleagues during prep periods.

What's happening: Already facing a decline in new teachers, schools entered the 2021-22 year short-staffed.

  • But now as the Omicron variant continues to spread infected teachers, or those who temporarily lose child care due to exposures, are having to take days off.

Zoom in: After returning from the holiday break, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) was down 200 to 300 teachers a day last week, according to the Star Tribune.

  • Today will be a virtual learning day due to a bus driver shortage, cold weather and COVID, MPS told parents.

Meanwhile, St. Paul Public Schools has only been able to cover about 40% of teacher absences with subs due to recent high demand, superintendent Joe Gothard said

  • Osseo Area Schools had about 600 staff out on Friday, said Kelly Wilson, president of the Osseo Local #1212 teachers union. The previous high for the district had been around 350, he said.

Between the lines: Added responsibilities are burning teachers out, said Denise Specht, president of the statewide teachers union Education Minnesota.

  • Some are quitting mid-year and breaking their contracts, which was unheard of pre-pandemic because doing so means they could lose their license, she added.
  • "In some places we're hearing people have just literally left the keys on the desk and have walked out because they are so overwhelmed and exhausted and stressed and they don't care if there's a possibility that they're putting their license in jeopardy," Specht said.

What to watch: St. Paul Public Schools is considering adding five digital learning days between now and the end of the school year.

  • Gothard said it's meant to be a respite for staff working in depleted schools. The district sent a survey to families, but nothing has been decided.
  • "Our priority is to keep our doors open and to keep students learning in person," he said.

The bottom line: If these Band-Aids don't work, districts could be forced to close schools temporarily and go virtual, which New Brighton-St. Anthony has already decided to do.

  • Wilson said he would like to see Osseo do that for two weeks to get students and staff healthy.
  • "How long can we sustain this? We already have people leaving their jobs," he said.

Full story.

2. Zimmer awaits his fate

Mike Zimmer waves to fans
Mike Zimmer waves to fans at U.S. Bank Stadium after Sunday's win over the Bears. Photo: AP Photo/Jim Mone

The Vikings beat the Bears 31-17 on Sunday on what could have been Mike Zimmer's last game as coach in Minnesota.

Driving the news: A CBS Sports story cited anonymous sources saying Zimmer was likely to be fired, but local media have not confirmed the report.

  • Today is known as Black Monday, when most NFL coach firings happen.

3. It's official: Kendall Qualls joins governor's race

kendall qualls
Kendall Qualls. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, via Getty Images

The GOP field for governor got a little more crowded over the weekend.

Driving the news: Kendall Qualls, who lost a bid for a suburban congressional seat in 2020, announced his campaign on Sunday.

  • About a half dozen Republicans are now running for the nomination to challenge DFL Gov. Tim Walz.

What he's saying: In a statement, Qualls described a state at a "crossroads," saying "the radical left has morphed the culture of the country where it is not recognizable."

What to watch: Minnesota Republican Party delegates will gather in May to endorse a candidate.

  • The head start other candidates have had in courting delegates could be a challenge for the relative newcomer to state politics.

Full story.

4. The Spoon: Your cure for a case of the Mondays

Illustration of a spoon and cherry, both with arms and legs, walking.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🧊 Accessing the ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore looks unlikely this winter, park officials said. (MPR News)

🩳 In Minnesota, we wear shorts while waiting for a COVID test outside in -2 degree weather. (Deena Winter/Twitter)

⛳️ Interlachen Country Club will host the U.S. Women's Open Championship in 2030. (Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal)

🙏 Friends of Jessica Marshik canvassed the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood Saturday, looking for 36-year-old woman who's been missing for a month. (Fox 9)

5. What to do if you test positive for COVID at home

box of binax test
Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Tested positive for COVID-19 at home? MDH doesn't need to know.

Driving the news: Droves of Minnesotans are turning to rapid tests amid spiking case counts and long waits for appointments — and sometimes results — at local testing sites.

  • But there's no way for residents to let state or local health officials know how their home test turned out.

The big picture: As America's record Omicron surge continues, cities and states across the country have no cohesive strategy to monitor the results of at-home rapid COVID tests, an Axios Local report found.

  • The patchwork approach means the COVID caseload is almost certainly a vast undercount.

What they're saying: MDH spokesperson Doug Schultz told Axios that the state doesn't collect or track at-home tests because "we do not have a good way to verify the results."

Keep reading for what to do if you test positive...

On the job hunt?

👀 Check out who's hiring on our Job Board.

  1. Graphic communication team leader at IKEA.
  2. IT service desk technician at TEKsystems.
  3. Creative project coordinator at UnitedHealth Group.

6. 🌹 1 fun thing to go: Bachelor Nation

Reproduced from ExpressVPN; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

Minnesota is the heartland of Bachelor Nation.

By the numbers: The state ranks No. 1 in the U.S. for the most Google search interest in the ABC reality show, according to ExpressVPN.

🌹 The bottom line: If we had roses to give, they would go to all of you dear readers.

  • We know you are here for the right reasons.

🌅 Some positive news for your Monday: We've gained 16 minutes of daylight since the winter solstice on Dec 21.

  • We will gain 44 more by the end of the month.

Editor's note: The 1 big thing has been updated to reflect a revision from the Osseo Local #1212 teachers union to the number of staff absent on Friday. Roughly 600 workers were out, not 700.