The information presented in this article is drawn primarily from the Minnesota COVID-19 press conferences led by Governor Tim Walz. These conferences will take place each weekday at 2:00 pm CST and can be listened to on Minnesota Public Radio. The Carletonian will provide summary coverage of these press conferences on a regular basis through updates to this page.
Friday, March 27: Statewide stay-at-home order goes into effect tonight
Minnesota is set to enter into a stay-at-home order this evening at 11:59 pm in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The state is currently reporting 398 cases and four deaths from the virus.
All fatalities have been among individuals in their 80’s, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. The two most recent deaths occurred in long-term care facilities, Governor Tim Walz reported in his daily COVID-19 update.
Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann noted that 17 congregate living facilities in Minnesota have seen at least one case. These communal facilities, especially those housing elderly individuals, are particularly susceptible to the spread of disease.
The state has set up teams to work directly with these facilities to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and communicate protocol for isolating cases. In an ideal world, Ehresmann noted, all staff at such facilities would wear masks even when no case had been detected at that site. This would prevent the virus from spreading from staff to residents. However, due to the significant shortage of PPE, these measures are currently impossible, she said.
The governor also signed an executive order allowing medical licensing boards to modify requirements to get more healthcare professionals on the front lines. This measure will not “cut corners” for licensing, but will instead speed up processes, Walz said.
State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly continued by reminding the public that questions about COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order should be addressed through state websites and COVID-19 hotlines, rather than by calling 911. Emergency lines have been unsafely tied up by a large volume of non-emergency calls related to the virus, Kelly said.
With respect to education, Heather Mueller confirmed that the state’s distance learning program is set to begin on Monday, March 30. Minnesota public schools serving grades K-12 have been closed since March 18 by the governor’s order. Many schools have served meals to children in need throughout this time, as well as offering childcare for the children of emergency workers.
Walz also noted that he expects to grant extensions for Minnesotans to renew driver’s licenses and ID cards, since Driver and Vehicle Services offices will be closed during the stay-at-home. Residents can still renew their vehicle registration online during this time. Walz also reminded Minnesotans that the national deadline to obtain a Real ID has been pushed back to September 2021.
In recent days, Walz noted, Minnesota has seen a 49% decrease in traffic accidents, suggesting that orders to stay home are being taken seriously.
Thursday, March 26: Walz provides clarification of stay-at-home order
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, in his daily COVID-19 update, offered clarification of the stay-at-home order set to begin on Friday, March 26 at 11:59 pm. “All Minnesotans are encouraged to voluntarily comply with this executive order,” the governor said.
Walz emphasized that no one will be asked to carry papers or show a note of where they are going. Law enforcement will serve as “an education piece” when it comes to enforcing the order, he said.
The governor also informed the public of a second death from COVID-19 in Minnesota. There are now 346 cases statewide. Although the cases are largely concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area and the surrounding counties, Walz defended his decision to implement a stay-at-home order for the entire state. The measure ensures a “universal standard,” he said.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Rice County—where Carleton is located—is reporting two cases of COVID-19. Neighboring Dakota County is reporting 25 cases.
MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm discouraged the public from traveling to rural areas of Minnesota for outdoor recreation. Rural counties with minimal healthcare infrastructure could easily become overwhelmed by the introduction of COVID-19, she explained.
Walz also took time to address reports of discrimination against Minnesota residents of Asian or Pacific Islander descent related to COVID-19. The governor condemned these occurrences and encouraged anyone who experiences a hate crime to report it to the state.
State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly continued by clarifying the measures Minnesota will take to increase intensive care unit (ICU) capacity. The additional ICU beds will be located exclusively in hospitals, Kelly said. Capacity will be increased, for example, by reclaiming areas typically used for elective surgeries, which have been temporarily halted due to COVID-19.
The state plans to establish alternate facilities to house non-critical care—for example, a patient recovering with a broken arm. Recently closed hospitals and nursing homes are the first choice for this purpose, Kelly said. The state would then consider other facilities with individual rooms, such as dormitories. An open public space—such as a sports arena or convention center—could be used as a last resort.
With respect to the economy, Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that 5.9% of the Minnesota labor force has applied for unemployment insurance within the past week. Among workers affected by closures due to COVID-19, about 60% have access to some form of paid leave, Grove said.
Grove encouraged employees and businesses to visit mn.gov/deed/critical if they have questions about whether their services are defined as “essential” under the new stay-at-home order. Businesses can also fill out an inquiry form and receive a response within 24 hours, he said.
Wednesday, March 25: Walz institutes stay-at-home order
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced a stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, set to take effect at 11:59 pm on Friday, March 27. The stay-at-home is planned to extend for two weeks until Friday, April 10. Walz also announced that restaurant closures are extended to May 1 and school closures to May 4.
The governor emphasized that residents may continue to leave their homes to engage in essential activities such as buying groceries, obtaining medical services, getting gas, and caring for others. Outdoor activities are permitted as long as social distancing is practiced. The order also makes allowances for homeless individuals and those who must relocate to ensure their own safety, including victims of domestic violence.
Minnesotans employed in essential services that cannot be performed remotely are permitted to leave their homes to work. This includes those employed in healthcare, childcare, law enforcement, the food and agriculture sector, financial services, faith-related services, education, and news services.
Also included in the essential services category are critical segments of sectors such as legal services, construction and repair work, transportation, social services, energy, manufacturing, and state and local government. The work of federal employees is not affected by the order. Walz noted that these essential services make up about 78% of employment in the state.
The governor explained that the order will not decrease the eventual infection rate, but will instead buy the state time to prepare for an influx of patients requiring critical care. According to the models used by Walz and his team, about 2.4 million Minnesotans are expected to eventually contract COVID-19, whether or not a shelter-in-place order is implemented. About 85% of these individuals will recover at home, 15% will be hospitalized, and 5% will require critical care, the governor said.
The state models predict that with no mitigation efforts, COVID-19 could result in 74,000 deaths statewide. In that scenario, Walz said, Minnesota would reach its peak infection rate in nine weeks, with intensive care unit (ICU) capacity being reached after only six weeks.
At the peak, 6,000 ICU beds would be required statewide. Minnesota currently has a total of 235 ICU beds. Without an ICU bed, a COVID-19 patient’s chance of death increases tenfold, Walz explained.
The governor’s team anticipates that the two-week stay-at-home will move the peak infection date out by five weeks. This will give the state time to increase critical care capacity, an intensive effort that may involve converting stadiums to hospitals, Walz said.
That time will also be used to acquire sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and to gather information about which residents should continue to remain at home, such as the elderly and those with preexisting conditions.
Walz noted that the two-week period could be extended if manufacturing capacity falls short of what is expected. However, he said he will make all efforts to limit the stay-at-home to two weeks to mitigate economic damage.
The governor also explained that he is working with neighboring states to assess how interstate travel could affect the order’s implementation. Wisconsin has instituted a stay-at-home order, but North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa have not. Travel in and out of Minnesota is permitted under Walz’s order.
According to the text of the order, a person who “willfully violates” the order is guilty of a misdemeanour and, if convicted, may be punished with a fine of less than $1,000 or imprisonment for less than 90 days.
However, the order also urges Minnesotans to “voluntarily comply” and stresses that the order is not intended to encourage or allow law enforcement to transgress individual constitutional rights. Walz repeatedly stated that he was “asking” Minnesotans to comply.
The text of the stay-at-home order — known as Emergency Executive Order 20-20 — can be accessed from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library at https://www.leg.state.mn.us/archive/execorders/20-20.pdf. This document also includes guidelines from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, offering further details about which positions are considered essential services.
Tuesday, March 24: Walz declines to institute stay-at-home order at this time
In his daily address to Minnesotans on Tuesday, March 24, Gov. Tim Walz again declined to institute a stay-at-home order for the state. Statewide closures for schools, restaurants, and bars will remain in place, Walz said. Minnesota is now reporting 262 cases of COVID-19, but because testing has been limited, the true number is likely to be much higher.
Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that Minnesota has received almost 150,000 applications for unemployment insurance in the past week. Over 48,000 of these applications came from the food services industry.
Minnesotans ages 22-29 are the largest age group represented in the new applications, making up over 20% of all applicants. With respect to educational attainment, those who have had some college, but fewer than four years, make up the largest share of applicants.
State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly reminded listeners that the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is operating two COVID-19 public hotlines, one for medical questions and one for questions related to schools and childcare. The hotlines are accessible through the MDH website.
Kelly is also working with a team to examine options for expanding healthcare capacity for the critically ill. This could involve setting up additional intensive care unit beds outside of hospitals, such as in a motel or a gymnasium, Kelly said.
Monday, March 23: Walz announces new executive orders for COVID-19 crisis
At his daily COVID-19 press conference on Monday, March 23, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and his team announced several new executive orders designed to provide both economic and medical support to Minnesotans.
The economic consequences of the pandemic are becoming increasingly visible, with 123,000 Minnesotans applying for unemployment insurance within the past week, according to Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove. Walz’s first executive order aims to offer some economic relief by placing a moratorium on evictions.
The governor also reported the establishment of a state emergency loan program designed to provide immediate relief to small businesses and independent contractors. According to Grove, businesses can apply for loans between $2,500 and $35,000, all of which are 50% forgivable. In addition, Minnesota is now eligible to participate in the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program, which will give small businesses access to additional funds from the federal government.
With respect to healthcare, Walz issued an executive order asking non-medical facilities in possession of personal protective equipment (PPE) to take inventory of their stock. In a further effort to preserve PPE, the final executive order will halt elective veterinary surgeries.
The state made progress over the weekend in mobilizing supply chains to increase the availability of both PPE and COVID-19 testing. Additional stock of medical supplies was received from the federal government over the weekend, Walz said. Meanwhile, Minnesota performed 982 tests on Sunday, reducing the testing backlog to about 80 samples—down from a backlog of almost 1,300 samples on Friday afternoon. This testing brought Minnesota to a total of 235 COVID-19 cases, Walz reported.
State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly explained that the National Guard has been mobilized to assist with the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, Kelly said, his office is looking to set up a system to coordinate volunteer and donation effort in Minnesota communities. Walz also noted that the state tax deadline has been extended to July 15 to correspond with the federal extended deadline.
Walz declined to issue a stay-at-home order to Minnesotans, but reiterated that the option remains on the table. He noted that the Minnesota Department of Health is working with the University of Minnesota on COVID-19 modelling efforts to inform policy-making.
Among other Midwestern states, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin have all announced stay-at-home orders to take effect early this week. Illinois has been under such an order since Saturday. Nationwide, over a dozen states will have a stay-at-home order in place by Wednesday.
Walz himself is currently self-isolating at home after coming into contact with an individual who later tested positive for COVID-19. The governor is currently reporting no symptoms.
Friday, March 20: Gov. Walz addresses Minnesotans on COVID-19, testing largely unavailable to Carleton students in Minnesota
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz addressed the public on the topic of COVID-19 on the afternoon of Friday, March 20, with similar press conferences now slated to take place each weekday at 2:00 pm CST. Walz was joined by State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly, Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove, and Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), among others.
Minnesota was reporting 137 cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday, March 21, with 48 new cases added since Wednesday. One of these new cases is in Rice County, where Carleton is located. The first COVID-19 death in the state was confirmed by the MDH on Saturday, March 21.
The Minnesota patients range in age from 17 to 94 years old, Ehresmann said. Eight of these patients have required hospitalization.
According to Walz, the state is struggling to increase testing due to shortages of reagents necessary to run the samples once test kits have been collected. There were 1,291 samples awaiting testing at the MDH as of Friday afternoon, Walz said.
About 4,000 COVID-19 tests have been performed in Minnesota to date. According to data from the COVID Tracking Project and the US Census Bureau, Minnesota ranks 18th among US states for number of tests performed per capita. California, New York, and Washington account for nearly half of all tests performed in the United States.
Minnesota has implemented measures to prioritize who qualifies for a test. Testing is currently limited to hospitalized patients, ill healthcare workers, and ill residents of long-term care facilities, according to the MDH website. This means that COVID-19 testing is currently largely unavailable to Carleton students staying on campus and elsewhere in Minnesota.
Individuals who begin to feel ill but are ineligible for testing are encouraged to self-isolate and avoid seeking care if their symptoms are mild, Ehresmann said. These individuals are not included in the state’s official count of COVID-19 cases.
Addressing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers is another top priority for Walz and his team. This week, Walz halted elective surgery procedures to preserve PPE supplies. The state is searching for additional PPE supply chains in collaboration with Minnesota businesses and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The governor outlined several additional measures taken in recent days to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The state activated the Medical Reserve Corps, which will bring healthcare professionals out of retirement to address critical medical needs. Walz also asked the federal government to provide funding to activate the Minnesota National Guard to combat the pandemic. Finally, the governor issued an executive order banning price gouging, which will prevent sellers from charging severely inflated prices for scarce products such as hand sanitizer.
With regard to the economic consequences of the pandemic, Grove said that the State Unemployment Insurance Program had received over 94,000 applications as of Thursday evening. The previous record for the number of applicants in a single week was 18,000. Roughly 85% of those who applied have never been on unemployment insurance before, Grove said. The state is also exploring ways to assist those who are ineligible for unemployment insurance.
In response to an audience question, Walz stated that shopping-mall closures may be on the horizon. The governor has not implemented a shelter-in-place order in Minnesota, but did not rule out the possibility for the future. As of Saturday, March 21, measures of this type had already been implemented in California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, and New Jersey.