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Gov. Walz announces phased reopening strategy, sparks controversy with legislators, nurses and churches

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 weekly basis through updates to this page.

Monday, May 18 – Friday, May 22: Walz announces phased reopening strategy, sparks controversy with legislators, nurses and churches

On Wednesday, May 20, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and his team announced key components of the state’s reopening strategy, with the next phase set to be implemented beginning Monday, June 1.

The state’s newly published “Stay Safe Plan” outlines the upcoming June 1 changes (Phase II) as well as the subsequent Phases III and IV, for which no dates have been set.

Restaurants and bars may reopen for outdoor dining only on June 1, the governor announced. The state is requiring a long list of precautions in these settings, including socially distanced tables, a 50-person cap on occupancy, limited party size, mandatory reservations and mask usage.

Barber shops, salons and tattoo parlors may also reopen on June 1, said Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove. They must keep occupancy below 25% of their fire code capacity, and masks and reservations will be required. Campgrounds can also reopen with appropriate social distancing and sanitation.

Minnesota will still ask residents to limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer during the June 1 phase, Grove said.

Grove also laid out plans for the subsequent Phase III, when restaurants and bars will be permitted to open indoor dining with precautions. Outdoor entertainment venues and pools will be phased in at limited capacities, and the maximum gathering size will be increased to 20.

The following Phase IV will see gyms, bowling alleys and movie theaters opening with precautions, Grove said. Very large gatherings—such as large sporting events, festivals and concerts—will not be permitted during any of the announced phases, according to the state’s website. The Minnesota State Fair board announced Friday that the fair would be cancelled this year.

Walz’s announcement sparked controversy with Republican lawmakers, who criticized the proposed regulations as arbitrary and an overstep of the governor’s authority. Meanwhile, nurses expressed concern that the reopening would overwhelm hospitals. The Minnesota Nurses Association held a protest at the State Capital on Wednesday about shortages of personal protective equipment.

The Catholic Church and the Lutheran Missouri Synod in Minnesota criticized what they said was discrimination against religious institutions in the new regulations. Both church bodies said they would permit congregations to resume services next week in defiance of the governor’s orders.

The June 1 phase was originally set to limit both indoor and outdoor religious gatherings to 10 attendees—in keeping with the maximum size advised for social gatherings, but below the 50-person cap for restaurants. 

On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that houses of worship will now be considered essential services during the pandemic, a move that supports religious institutions in defying state regulations to resume services.

In response to the Trump decision and pushback from Minnesota faith leaders, Walz revised his guidance Saturday to allow indoor religious services at 25% of building fire capacity beginning next Wednesday, May 27. Both indoor and outdoor services will be capped at 250 attendees, with masks recommended and social distancing required.

Minnesota is currently reporting 19,005 cases of COVID-19 and 842 deaths. Friday saw the state’s highest daily case increase so far, with 813 new cases reported. Rice County is currently reporting 328 cases—a 67% increase from last Friday. These cases remain heavily concentrated in Faribault, with just 22 cases in Northfield.

Faribault Daily News reported May 19 that the increase is largely due to increased screening for employees at manufacturing plants. Rice County’s cases are skewed towards minority groups, with 44% of the individuals being black, 14% Latino, 2% Asian, 10% white and 28% unknown, according to the Faribault Daily News report.

As Minnesota looks to expand testing, it is focusing on proactively pushing out tests to communities, said Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The state is also stepping up testing in long-term care facilities. In collaboration with MDH, 39 such facilities have tested all their residents, Malcolm said, with 30 additional facilities scheduled for next week.

The Minnesota National Guard will operate six temporary testing sites for Memorial Day weekend, Malcolm reported, where anyone can get a free test whether or not they present symptoms. One of these six testing sites is in Faribault.

Malcolm reported Friday that many hospitals in the Twin Cities Metro area are beginning to run short on bed capacity as COVID-19 cases increase. This does not include the surge capacity that these hospitals have prepared for the pandemic’s peak.

The governor’s team also announced on Tuesday that the state had purchased a former distribution warehouse in St. Paul to serve as a temporary morgue.

Meanwhile, State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield reported on Thursday that MDH will undertake several serology studies to learn more about the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies at a population level. The studies will include a random sample of households in seven parts of the state, a sample of grocery store and healthcare workers, and an examination of antibody levels in blood bank donors.

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Monday, May 11 – Friday, May 15: Minnesota to partially reopen Monday as stay-at-home order ends

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced on Wednesday, May 13 that the state’s stay-at-home order would not be renewed when it expires on Monday, May 18. It will be replaced with a “Stay Safe Minnesota” order that prescribes a cautious partial reopening.

Beginning on Monday, Minnesota’s non-critical retail stores and main street businesses—including retailers in malls—may reopen if they have a COVID-19 safety plan and can operate at 50% capacity or less. Restaurants, bars and hair salons must remain closed, Walz said, but his team has a target to reopen these businesses on June 1.

Minnesotans are strongly encouraged to wear masks in public and practice social distancing, Walz emphasized. In keeping with CDC guidance, the new Stay Safe MN order advises residents not to gather in groups larger than 10. The stay-at-home order, meanwhile, had encouraged Minnesotans to avoid contact with individuals outside their household.

The updated guidance will allow a range of activities—such as religious gatherings—to resume with 10 or fewer people in attendance. The new order still advises social distancing during such gatherings, Walz said. 

The governor asked Minnesotans to continue to limit travel wherever possible. “We believe the safest place you can be is at home,” he said.

Walz emphasized that the success of the reopening will depend on whether Minnesotans follow the recommended precautions. The state could potentially dial back the reopening process if the move produces significant negative effects, the governor said.

Walz also announced two executive orders to supplement Stay Safe MN. The first encourages individuals with the greatest risk for COVID-19 to continue to stay home wherever possible. According to the order, this includes anyone over 65, those living in long-term care facilities and those with underlying health conditions. 

The specified conditions include moderate to severe asthma, diabetes, immunocompromisation, severe obesity, and lung, liver or kidney disease. The order also offers provisions to support individuals experiencing homelessness.

The governor’s second executive order ensures that employees can raise concerns about the safety of their work environments without fear of retaliation or discrimination from their employers.

Walz said that after weeks of procuring personal protective equipment (PPE), increasing hospital capacity and ramping up resting, Minnesota is ready to meet the challenge of reopening. However, a reporter questioned the governor about concerns raised by the Minnesota Nurses Association, including reports that many hospitals are still dangerously rationing PPE.

Minnesota is currently reporting 14,240 cases of COVID-19 and 683 deaths, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

Kris Ehresmann, director of the state’s Infectious Disease Division, reported on Thursday that 98.8% of Minnesota’s fatalities have occurred among individuals with a significant underlying health condition. Studies estimate that more than 30% of Minnesotans have such a condition, she said.

Rice County—where Carleton is located—is reporting 197 COVID-19 cases and two deaths. These cases are overwhelmingly centered in Faribault rather than Northfield, with just 10 confirmed cases among Northfield residents, according to the county’s website. Rice County ranks 12th out of Minnesota’s 87 counties for highest number of COVID-19 cases, MDH data shows.

At the Monday, May 11 briefing, State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield announced that Minnesota had received a small shipment of the antiviral drug Remdesivir from the federal government. The FDA issued emergency authorization of the drug on May 1 after preliminary data suggested that it reduced recovery time for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

According to Lynfield’s updates throughout the week, Minnesota received several small shipments of the drug, amounting to a full course of medication for fewer than 200 patients. Protocols were developed to provide the drug to patients with the highest need. Minnesota will receive a shipment on a weekly basis for the next four weeks, Lynfield reported on Thursday.

Lynfield also announced on Friday, May 15 that Minnesota had sent out a health alert about the multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children. Many experts suspect that the new syndrome, recently reported in New York and Europe, could be linked to COVID-19.

The syndrome is currently thought to be rare, Lynfield said. Children may present a range of symptoms including fever, inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting and rash. Additional information will be forthcoming from MDH next week, she added.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with the governor’s lifting of the stay-at-home order, the University of Minnesota (U of M) publicly released the third version of its COVID-19 model on Wednesday, May 13. State Health Economist Stefan Gildemeister and other Minnesota health officials held an online briefing with the media that same day to discuss the model.

According to the presentation shown during the briefing, the U of M modelled a variety of potential scenarios. These included unmitigated spread, extension of the stay-at-home order through the end of May, and a “soft reopening” beginning May 18—the strategy that was eventually adopted.

Under the “soft reopening” scenario, the model predicts that the peak of COVID-19 will fall at the end of June. This is a couple weeks earlier than predicted by the model’s second iteration. Minnesota’s projected ICU needs and mortality estimates have also been revised slightly upwards. This reflects, in part, that social distancing recommendations and the stay-at-home order did not reduce interpersonal contact as much as experts had hoped.

The new model predicts about 29,000 cumulative deaths from COVID-19 in Minnesota over a 12-month period. This number currently has a large uncertainty range, from 16,000 to 44,000 deaths, according to the presentation.

The model suggests that an extension of the stay-at-home order through the end of the month would have had a small but measurable effect on the course of COVID-19. Such a move would have delayed the peak by one week, the model posits, and slightly decreased cumulative deaths.

The code for earlier versions of the model has now been made publicly available on GitHub, Gildemeister said.

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Monday, May 4 – Friday, May 8: Minnesota projects $2.43 billion budget deficit

This week’s COVID-19 briefings from the team of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz included a sobering update on Tuesday, May 5 about the effects of the virus on the state budget. A new emergency projection estimates that Minnesota will face a $2.43 billion deficit for the 2020-21 fiscal period, according to Commissioner of Management and Budget Myron Frans. 

Minnesota went into the COVID-19 crisis with a projected $1.5 billion surplus for that same period, Frans said—meaning that projections have shifted by almost $4 billion in the past two months. The state typically releases budget projections in February and November each year. 

The emergency projection was completed at the request of the governor in an effort to better understand how COVID-19 will affect the state’s finances. Frans emphasized that the estimate contains uncertainties as the crisis continues to develop.  

The projected deficit comes from increased state spending to combat COVID-19, as well as decreased revenues from taxes. Income tax revenues will decrease as unemployment soars, said State Economist Laura Kalambokidis, while a drop in consumer spending will shrink sales tax revenues. Since mid-March, about 600,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment insurance, according to Kalambokidis.

As Minnesota faces the impending deficit, an important tool will be the $2.36 billion state budget reserve, which Frans described as a “rainy day fund.” Each November, one-third of any state budget surplus has historically been set aside in the reserve.

The funds in the budget reserve are currently at the highest level in state history, Frans said, putting Minnesota in a strong position to confront the crisis. However, he said, it would be dangerous to deplete all the funds in the reserve.

Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), announced during the May 5 briefing that the state will lift its ban on elective surgeries. These restrictions have been in place since March 19 to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and reduce interpersonal contact.

Facilities that resume elective procedures need to develop a plan to conserve PPE and protect staff and patients, Malcolm said. These plans do not need to be filed officially with the state. 

The easing of restrictions also extends to elective dental procedures, said Malcolm, although she added that many dental offices may choose to reopen on a gradual basis.

At the Thursday, May 7 briefing, state health officials presented an aggressive plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. About 80% of Minnesota’s fatalities have been among long-term care facility residents, Malcolm said.

Under the new plan, MDH prescribes facility-wide testing when a positive case is confirmed in a facility, or when multiple residents and staff develop symptoms. This is a change from previous guidance that advised testing for symptomatic individuals only.

MDH is also working to provide crisis staffing options for long-term care facilities, Malcolm said. Many facilities are struggling to ensure adequate staffing levels as employees take time away from work due to suspected COVID-19 exposure.

Finally, MDH will work more closely with the State Emergency Management Center and local public health officials in an effort to expand its capacity to address the needs of long-term care centers.

As of Thursday, May 5, one out of every five Minnesota nursing homes had a confirmed COVID-19 case, Malcolm said, while fewer than one in ten assisted living facilities had a case. Cases have been detected in a total of 330 facilities, with 143 of these having more than two cases.

Minnesota is currently reporting 10,088 cases of COVID-19 and 544 deaths, Malcolm announced on Friday, May 8. 

Data from Tuesday showed that five Minnesota counties with outbreaks at food processing plants accounted for about a quarter of the state’s cases. These counties—Nobles, Stearns, Kandiyohi, Martin and Cottonwood—are all located outside of the Twin Cities Metro area, which has otherwise seen the highest case numbers.

At Friday’s briefing, Lieutenant Gov. Peggy Flanagan spoke to equity issues surrounding COVID-19. She noted that almost 30% of indigenous individuals in Minnesota’s labor force have applied for unemployment insurance, along with almost 21% of Hispanic Minnesotans, 22% of Asian Minnesotans and 31% of black Minnesotans in the labor force. 

Flanagan leads the state’s Community Resiliency and Recovery Work Group, which was launched in April to address health and economic equity issues related to the virus.

Friday, May 1: Minnesota confronts COVID-19 risks at long-term care facilities, food processing plants

During the state’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) officials Jan Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann spent time discussing statistics related to COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities.

The majority of the state’s 371 deaths from COVID-19 have occurred among long-term care facility residents. A total of 244 facilities have reported at least one case of COVID-19, with over half of these reporting two or fewer cases, Ehresmann said. Twenty-one facilities have reported 20 or more cases, although this total may include some facilities specifically dedicated to receiving COVID-19 patients.

Long-term care facilities include both nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Residents are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their age, the communal nature of the residence, and the high prevalence of underlying medical conditions.

Minnesota continues to increase COVID-19 testing, with 4,124 tests conducted statewide on Thursday—almost double the daily totals seen at the beginning of this week. Malcolm announced that Minnesota will soon start receiving 47,000 nasal swabs—a critical supply for diagnostic testing—on a weekly basis through the Federal Emergency Management Fund.

The state is also confronting increasing COVID-19 outbreaks at meat packing facilities, where hundreds of employees often work in close quarters. 

In Nobles County, home of the JBS pork processing plant, testing suggests a per-capita infection rate of 4%, with at least 40% of these cases tied to the plant, WCCO reported today. JBS suspended operations indefinitely on April 20. 

Earlier this week, the plant announced a limited reopening to slaughter and dispose of hogs without processing them—an effort to assist farmers who have been left with nowhere to send their hogs to market. The limited staff will consist of just 10 to 20 employees, according to the JBS website.

On Tuesday, April 28, President Donald Trump issued an executive order giving the federal government the authority to mandate that meat packing plants remain open under the Defense Production Act (DPA). The DPA is a wartime manufacturing provision that allows the federal government to direct the production of critical resources.

The order states that closures of meat packing plants “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”

Malcolm called the order “problematic” during Tuesday’s press conference, citing the health risks of keeping plants open if they are facing outbreaks.

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Thursday, April 30: Walz extends stay-at-home order to May 18, allows retailers to reopen for curbside pickup and delivery

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz today extended the state’s stay-at-home order to May 18, with dine-in services at restaurants and bars also to remain closed until that date. At the same time, Walz announced that retail businesses can reopen for curbside pickup and delivery services beginning this Monday, May 4.

The new retail provision will help up to 30,000 Minnesotans return to work, the governor said. The decision was made in consultation with state chambers of commerce, retail associations and business and labor leaders, according to Steve Grove, commissioner for employment and economic development. The strategy to reopen on an incremental basis is consistent with guidance from the National Retail Federation and the Minnesota Retailers Association, Grove added.

Under the new provision, retail businesses may conduct curbside pickup and delivery services with limited contact between customers and employees. Customers should remain in their cars whenever possible, said Grove, and contactless payment methods are highly suggested. Both customers and employees are asked to wear masks and gloves. 

Businesses that reopen are asked to produce a written plan describing how they will minimize transmission risks for COVID-19. They do not have to provide these plans to the state, Grove said. Minnesota is also asking businesses to perform health screenings for employees.

In addition to the sale of consumer goods, the order has room to accommodate some maintenance and repair services as well as pet grooming, Grove explained.

Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, made an appearance at the briefing to discuss the new provision.

The incremental reopening comes as Minnesota continues to climb the COVID-19 curve. However, Walz said he feels confident in the state’s situation, as hospitals have used the past weeks to increase capacity and prepare for a growing number of COVID-19 patients.

Minnesota has seen a significant jump in cases in the past week, an effect that is likely tied to increased testing through a partnership with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. After weeks of averaging around 1,500 tests per day, Minnesota yesterday performed 3,279 tests as state officials recommend testing for any symptomatic individual. Minnesota’s testing website now lists 177 testing locations statewide.

Testing has focused in particular on communities where meat-packing plants have seen outbreaks. Nobles County, whose JBS pork processing plant saw a significant outbreak last week, is now reporting over 700 cases—a per capita infection rate approaching that of New York City, according to Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Walz said that in the coming days, his team will look towards relaxing the current ban on elective surgeries, which was enacted to minimize interpersonal contact and preserve critical medical supplies. The ban, which has been in place since March 19, covers procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removals. The upcoming decision will be made in close consultation with hospitals, Walz added.

The governor said he does not currently know whether restaurants and bars will be permitted to reopen dine-in services after May 18. His team hopes to learn from results seen in other states and in Minnesota itself as curbside pickup services begin.

Minnesota is currently reporting 5,136 cases of COVID-19 and 343 deaths.

Wednesday, April 29: Shuttered nursing home in Roseville chosen as state’s first alternate care site

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly announced during today’s COVID-19 briefing that his team has chosen a recently shuttered nursing home in Roseville as the state’s first alternate care site.

Alternate care sites are facilities outside of hospitals that Minnesota could use as overflow capacity if hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Such sites would not house intensive care patients, but rather those who require minimal care—such as an individual recovering from a broken arm. This would free up additional hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

The nursing home can accommodate up to 100 beds, Kelly said, with the repurposing process set to be completed within a couple weeks. The building is a property of Presbyterian Homes, a company that manages senior care facilities in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, hospitals are doing their part to increase intensive care capacity on-site. Medical facilities statewide have made arrangements to more than double ICU capacity, Kelly said. With these efforts, he added, he hopes that alternate care facilities like the one in Roseville will never have to be used.

Minnesota is now reporting 4,645 cases of COVID-19 and 319 deaths. Of these deaths, 78% have occurred among long-term care facility residents, according to Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann. An overwhelming 99.2% of the deceased individuals had an underlying condition that put them at higher risk for COVID-19. Such conditions include immunosuppression, pre-existing respiratory conditions, diabetes, obesity and various conditions associated with the elderly, according to Ehresmann.

Steve Grove, commissioner for employment and economic development, offered an update on employee screening resources, as some manufacturing and office-based businesses reopen this week. The Department of IT Services and the Minnesota Safety Council have partnered with Target to develop the Minnesota Symptom Screener, Grove announced. This tool allows businesses to track employees’ temperatures and responses to COVID-19 screening questions with complete anonymity.

The resulting data can give employers a big-picture sense of developments over time, Grove explained. He stressed that it is optional for both employers and employees. Hundreds of businesses have signed up to use the tool since it was announced.

Target also recently developed and stocked a no-touch infrared thermometer that it is offering to Minnesota businesses at wholesale cost, Grove said.

Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic made headlines Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence visited Rochester to tour the facility. Pence drew media attention and controversy when he declined to wear a cloth mask during the tour, despite a Mayo policy requiring that visitors wear masks. Pence stated that he did not need to wear a mask because he is regularly tested for COVID-19.

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Tuesday, April 28: Testing has nearly doubled since last week, but remains insufficient

COVID-19 diagnostic testing rates have nearly doubled in Minnesota since Gov. Tim Walz announced the state’s testing partnership with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic last Wednesday, April 22. The testing volume, however, still falls well below Walz’ stated goal of at least 5,000 tests per day.

In the week preceding last Wednesday’s announcement, Minnesota performed an average of 1,300 tests daily. Since then, as state officials encouraged clinics and hospitals to test any symptomatic individual, that number has increased to nearly 2,400 tests per day.

According to Minnesota’s COVID-19 testing website, the Allina Health clinic in Faribault is the nearest testing location to Carleton. That clinic recently opened up its testing to any symptomatic individual. Testing is available by appointment from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, according to the Minnesota testing website.

During the daily COVID-19 update from state officials, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist, offered a clearer picture on both the possibilities and limitations of serological testing. In contrast to diagnostic testing—which determines whether an individual is currently infected with COVID-19—serological testing detects whether an individual has COVID-19 antibodies in their bloodstream. The presence of antibodies means that the person was previously exposed to the virus.

Lynfield emphasized that we do not currently have a good understanding of the extent to which individuals receive immunity to COVID-19 after recovering from the disease. Both the strength and the duration of immunity vary greatly between different types of viruses, she explained, and we do not currently know where COVID-19 falls on this spectrum.

This uncertainty means that even if an individual tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies, they would need to continue to social distance, Lynfield said. At least for now, a positive serology test is not a ticket back to normalcy.

With this in mind, Lynfield currently sees two major purposes for serological testing in Minnesota. First, she explained, it could help officials understand how many people have been exposed to the virus on a population level. Second, individuals with antibodies could serve as convalescent plasma donors to help patients with COVID-19 fight off the virus.

It can take a week or more for an infected individual to develop detectable antibodies, Lynfield said, meaning that the accuracy of the serology test depends greatly on when it is administered. There are currently over one hundred serological tests on the market with a range of reliability levels, she added.

Minnesota is currently reporting 4,181 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 365 cases over yesterday as the state ramps up its testing and focuses on communities with larger outbreaks. Minnesota has seen 301 deaths from COVID-19.

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Monday, April 27: COVID-19 threatens Minnesota meat packing facilities

During today’s COVID-19 briefing, state commissioners addressed concerns about the spread of the virus in Minnesota meat packing facilities.

The JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota, suspended operations last Monday, April 20 due to a community COVID-19 outbreak with suspected links to the plant. Last Friday, April 24, Jennie-O Turkey Store followed suit, temporarily shuttering its turkey processing facilities in Willmar, Minnesota after several employees tested positive.

The closures are drawing attention to the potential for food processing facilities—where large numbers of employees often work in close quarters—to become COVID-19 hotbeds.

According to Nancy Leppink, commissioner for the Department of Labor and Industry, state officials reached out to about 50 of the largest Minnesota meat packing facilities last week. Leppink’s department is partnering with the Departments of Health and Agriculture to offer assistance to these plants, including on-site consultations and advising on social distancing protocols.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is also reaching out to vegetable canning plants to offer similar support, said Infectious Disease Division Coordinator Kris Ehresmann.

The objective is to keep the facilities open wherever possible, Leppink said. This will require purposeful adjustments to the plants’ procedures.

In response to the outbreak at the JBS plant, MDH is partnering with local provider Sanford Health to implement aggressive screening and testing for JBS employees, according to Ehresmann. The outbreak is likely a result of both workplace and community exposure, she explained.

Thom Petersen, commissioner for the Department of Agriculture, spoke to the consequences of the closures for Minnesota farmers. Smithfield—a Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant that has been closed since April 15—and the JBS plant account for more than 50% of the market for Minnesota hogs, he said, typically processing between 100,000 and 200,000 hogs per week.

Smaller Minnesota plants are working to pick up the slack, including by processing on weekends, Petersen explained, while farmers are altering hogs’ diets to decrease time pressures. Still, he said, there will be a need to euthanize some animals, a process that some farmers have already begun. Consumers may also see higher meat prices and decreased supplies in grocery stores.

Minnesota is currently reporting 3,816 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 215 cases from yesterday. The state has seen 286 deaths, with 223 of these occurring among long-term care facility residents.

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Friday, April 24: Minnesota to continue with distance learning through end of school year

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced on Thursday, April 23 that Minnesota K-12 schools would continue with distance learning through the end of the school year. Walz and his team today dedicated their COVID-19 press conference to discussion of the state’s distance learning plan.

“The magnitude of this decision is huge,” Walz said. “The impact it has on children and families certainly can’t be understated.”

Mary Cathryn Ricker, state commissioner of education, outlined the goals of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) for the remainder of the school year. The department is focusing on getting broadband and technology access to students who are still without the Internet connections and devices they need to learn online. MDE is also organizing webinars for teachers to offer support and guidance.

It is crucial that each student have multiple adults from their school community checking in on them, Ricker added, as many students have lost vital connections with support networks outside their families. She did not offer specific statistics on attendance for the past weeks of distance learning.

Distance learning in Minnesota, as in so many areas of the country, has been filled with challenges and inadequacies. The press conference featured first-hand testimonies of these issues from two Minnesota teachers and two students, as well as Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan.

Flanagan discussed the inequities inherent in distance learning. The burden has fallen heavily on those without proper technology access, she said, including low-income families and those living in rural areas with poor or non-existent Internet access. The new learning situation has also disproportionately affected communities of color, English language learners, families of students with special needs and families in financial crisis, she added.

Glazell Toledo, a high school math teacher in Intermediate District 287—a specialized district serving high-need students from the West Metro area—spoke further on this topic. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the challenges that many of her students faced before the pandemic, she said, including mental health struggles, trauma and homelessness. Many of her students are now working extra hours to support their families or serving as full-time caretakers for siblings. Toledo has been unable to get in touch with some of her students during distance learning.

Angela Forland, a third-grade teacher from Spring Valley in southeastern Minnesota, shared that poor Internet service at her rural home left her unable to access video chat services, online classroom forums and her school’s grading platform. She and her two elementary-aged children spent two weeks relying on cellular data or completing their work between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. when Internet performance was better. Eventually, Forland opted to report to her school building for better Internet, keeping herself and her children quarantined in her classroom throughout the workday. 

Today’s briefing also included an announcement that the Minnesota COVID-19 testing website is now live at https://mn.gov/covid19/for-minnesotans/if-sick/. The new site includes a self-screening questionnaire to help residents assess whether they should seek out testing. The site also features a map of testing locations throughout the state.

According to the webpage, Rice County—where Carleton is located—currently has only one testing site, at the Allina Health clinic in Faribault. The Faribault clinic is currently testing only symptomatic individuals who are long-term care facility residents, first responders, healthcare workers and family members of healthcare workers. 

This means that testing at the Faribault clinic is not accessible to most members of the Carleton community residing in Northfield. Several clinics and hospitals in the Twin Cities area are offering testing to all symptomatic patients.

Minnesota is currently reporting 3,185 cases of COVID-19 and 221 deaths.

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Thursday, April 23: Executive order allows 20,000 industrial and office-based businesses to return to work next week 

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz today announced an executive order that will permit some industrial, manufacturing and office-based businesses to resume on-site operations next Monday, April 27. These businesses must be non-customer-facing, meaning that their operations cannot involve any face-to-face contact with the public.

The order will permit about 20,000 businesses to reopen, said Commissioner for Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove during the governor’s daily COVID-19 briefing. This will pave the way for between 80,000 and 100,000 employees to return to work.

Businesses that intend to reopen must follow certain guidelines, Grove explained. Each business must create a COVID-19 preparedness plan following guidance from the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health. Such plans could include components like surface control and disinfection protocol, Grove said. The state has developed a template plan that businesses may opt to use.

The plans do not need to be submitted to the state, Grove said, but they must be posted and disseminated to all employees. The state reserves the right to request a copy of any plan if there is reason for concern about a business’s practices, he added.

Businesses must also conduct daily health screenings for each employee upon arrival, Grove said. This could include taking workers’ temperatures and asking them if they are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The order does not mandate that businesses reopen, but simply paves the way for them to make that choice, Grove explained. Businesses that resume on-site operations are instructed to keep employees working remotely wherever possible.

The requirements outlined in the order do not apply to essential businesses that have remained open throughout the pandemic, Grove clarified. However, the requirements take inspiration from essential businesses that are already implementing such measures.

Some essential businesses will likely be making changes in the coming weeks as well. In the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak at a pork processing plant in southwestern Minnesota, large meat packing plants should be reevaluating their protocols, said Nancy Leppink, commissioner for the Department of Labor and Industry. This could include slowing down production, increasing social distancing measures and ensuring that employees have the means to stay home when sick, she said.

Most of those eligible to return to work under the new order will no longer qualify for unemployment insurance, Grove said. Important exceptions include employees now serving as caretakers for a child or another individual due to COVID-19, and employees with conditions that put them at high risk for the disease.

The current volume of state unemployment insurance applications has now exceeded the number seen in Minnesota during the Great Recession, Grove added.

The new executive order was crafted with input from Chambers of Commerce, labor unions, and business and labor leaders across Minnesota, Grove said. The governor’s team also consulted experts on designing social distancing protocols for workplaces.

Walz emphasized that the reopening process will be gradual. The state plans to “gradually and safely loosen restrictions starting with settings most conducive to safe practices,” according to the presentation displayed during the briefing. The overall stay-at-home order remains in effect until May 4.

Walz spoke of “adjusting the dials,” or slowing and intentionally loosening restrictions where it makes the most sense. Everyday life will be different for quite some time, he said, with remote work, physical distancing, face masks and symptom screening becoming the norm.

The governor emphasized the distinction between predictable settings—such as a manufacturing plant where each employee works in a designated area—and unpredictable settings, such as shopping malls and sporting events where large numbers of people mix.

While CDC guidance recommends that customer-facing businesses reopen only when a state has seen a decrease in cases for 14 days, Walz said that he would consider implementing a more state-specific approach to allow such businesses to reopen sooner. With Minnesota’s peak expected in late May or during the summer, it may be a long time before cases begin to decrease, he explained. A robust strategy of testing, tracing and isolating could facilitate an earlier reopening.

However, the governor emphasized that the return of large public events like baseball games remains a long way away. While a decision has not yet been made, Walz conceded that he is not optimistic about holding the Minnesota State Fair this September.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,942 cases of COVID-19 and 200 deaths.

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Wednesday, April 22: University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic partner with state to increase testing

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and his team today unveiled a partnership with Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota that will allow the state to significantly increase its testing capacity.

Effective immediately, state guidelines now recommend diagnostic testing for all Minnesotans who exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Previously, testing was only available to symptomatic individuals belonging to certain priority groups, such as long-term care facility residents and healthcare workers.

According to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota will together create a central lab to accommodate the expanded testing capacity. The two organizations will also oversee a virtual command center that will manage the daily flow of testing to ensure that goals are met.

The collaboration will include a large-scale effort to coordinate testing supplies, collection capacity, laboratory capacity, and patient demand, Malcolm said. Disconnect between these pieces has been one of the reasons that testing in Minnesota has fallen short, she explained. 

Malcolm believes that this improved coordination alone could increase the state testing volume to about 8,000 tests per day. In addition, new types of tests in development at Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota are expected to further ramp up testing volume. Minnesota is currently testing between 1,000 and 1,500 individuals on a typical day, according to the MDH website.

Malcolm stressed the importance of keeping testing sites as close to home as possible, saying that residents would ideally have access to a test through their regular healthcare provider. Each provider should make the shift towards testing all symptomatic individuals in the coming days and weeks, she said.

A website is currently under construction that will indicate the locations of all testing sites statewide, Malcolm added. There will also be a hotline designed to direct residents to testing sites. 

The funding for the collaboration will come from a $36 million withdrawal from the state COVID-19 emergency fund, Malcolm said. The withdrawal was recently approved by the Minnesota legislature.

Walz and his team were joined at the press conference by Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School; Dr. William Morice, chair of Mayo Clinic Laboratories; Andrea Walsh, CEO of HealthPartners; and Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Each offered thoughts on the potential of the new collaboration.

According to Morice, the collaboration will prioritize in-state testing. Most test results will have a turn-around time of under 24 hours, he added.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,721 cases of COVID-19 and 179 deaths. The state saw 19 deaths in the past day, the largest daily increase observed thus far.

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Tuesday, April 21: State focuses attention on long-term care facilities

Tuesday’s Minnesota COVID-19 press conference focused on updates on how the state is working with long-term care facilities to reduce risks for their residents. Over one hundred long-term care facilities statewide have seen at least one case of COVID-19. 

Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Michelle Larson, director for the MDH Health Regulation Division, and Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann described the work their teams are doing for long-term care facilities.

This includes immediately contacting any facility that reports its first case and working directly with that facility to implement protocols to reduce spread. In addition, the state coordinates a weekly group call with long-term care facility directors statewide, which usually attracts about 1,500 participants, according to Larson.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,567 cases of COVID-19 and 160 deaths. Of these 160 deaths, 113 were individuals associated with long-term care facilities, according to Ehresmann.

Malcolm added that although long-term care facility residents make up about 70% of total deaths, they represent a smaller percentage of COVID-19 patients hospitalized and in the ICU. Younger individuals are still at risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms requiring hospitalization, she explained, but they are more likely to survive the disease.

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Monday, April 20: JBS pork processing plant suspends operations amid outbreak

The JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota, has suspended its operations indefinitely amid a COVID-19 outbreak in the community, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz explained during his daily COVID-19 update.

According to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), there are 77 confirmed cases in Nobles County, where Worthington is located, with more testing still to be done. Thirty-three of these individuals work at JBS, and six are family members of JBS employees. Many of the affected employees are undocumented immigrants, Malcolm explained, with many also facing language barriers.

Malcolm added there may be a link between the JBS outbreak and another recent outbreak at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, since many families have family members working at both plants.

According to Thom Petersen, commissioner for the Department of Agriculture, the JBS and Smithfield plants represent about 50% of market demand for Minnesota hog farmers. The closures have put these farmers in a difficult economic position.

Nancy Leppink, commissioner for the Department of Labor and Industry, explained that the state is working with meat processing plants to develop guidelines to keep workers safe. All other meat processing plants in the state currently remain operational. 

Walz reported during the press conference that he had received a call from President Donald Trump on Saturday, April 18, following Trump’s tweet of “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” the previous day—a message that presumably referenced protests of the state’s stay-at-home order. 

He and Trump had a “good conversation,” the governor said. The 10-minute phone call touched on how Minnesota is aligning with federal guidelines, as well as topics such as PPE shortages. Walz emphasized a message of unity to listeners, stating that he wants to avoid public arguments and hopes to cooperate with the federal government to fight COVID-19.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,470 cases of COVID-19.

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Friday, April 17: Seven Midwestern governors form COVID-19 compact

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced during his daily COVID-19 press conference that Minnesota is partnering with six other Midwestern states in a coalition to fight COVID-19 and coordinate economic reopening. The group consists of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. 

Walz explained that the seven governors will not necessarily move in lockstep, but will rather share practices with each other. The coalition is bipartisan, with two of the states having Republican governors and five having Democratic governors, he added.

Walz also responded to reporter questions about recent protests of the stay-at-home order outside of his residence. The governor emphasized that his top priority is the health of Minnesotans, adding that he strongly supports citizens’ right to protest.

The governor also addressed reporter inquiries about a tweet sent out by President Donald Trump earlier this morning, which read “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Trump sent out similar tweets aimed at Michigan and Virginia around the same time, presumably in response to protests in those states. Walz said that he had called Trump and Vice President Mike Pence multiple times since viewing the tweet to inquire about how they believe Minnesota’s COVID-19 response differs from other states’. He had received no reply.

Walz also spoke about concerns of a COVID-19 cluster in Worthington, Minnesota, where the JBS pork processing plant is located. Worthington, in the southwestern part of the state, is an hour away from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a recent outbreak at the Smithfield pork processing plant led to a temporary shutdown. Many Minnesotans commute between the two cities, Walz explained, and it is common for families to have family members working at both plants.

There are 30 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Worthington, with at least seven of these being linked to the JBS plant—a number that is expected to rise, Walz said. The plant is currently still operational but is taking additional precautions.

The press conference also featured guest appearances from John Hick, a physician in the Hennepin County medical system and manager of the State Healthcare Coordination System, as well as Mary Turner, an ICU nurse who serves as president of the Minnesota Nurses’ Association. Hick spoke about continued coordination between the healthcare and emergency management sectors to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 cases. Turner provided testimony of her experiences in a COVID-19 ICU unit, and thanked Minnesotans for buying time to prevent the state healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,071 cases of COVID-19 and 117 deaths.

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Thursday, April 16: University of Minnesota proposes performing 20,000 tests per day

The University of Minnesota today released a proposal suggesting that it could eventually scale up its testing to 10,000 diagnostic tests and 10,000 serology tests per day, according to the Minnesota daily COVID-19 update from the team of Gov. Tim Walz. 

This total of 20,000 daily tests would greatly exceed Walz’s previous stated goal of at least 5,000 tests per day. It would represent about a 15-fold increase over the number of tests that Minnesota is currently performing.

According to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the state would first direct increased testing capacity towards currently prioritized groups. MDH guidelines mandate that congregate care facility residents, the elderly, hospitalized patients, healthcare workers, first responders, childcare providers and those with underlying conditions should be prioritized for testing if they present symptoms. However, not all such individuals have been able to access testing due to limited supplies, Malcolm explained.

The next priority for testing would be individuals who present symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but do not belong to any of the current priority groups, she added.

Malcolm also responded to reporter questions about recent protests outside the governor’s residence as some Minnesotans demand the reopening of the state’s economy.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,912 cases of COVID-19 and 94 deaths.

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Wednesday, April 15: Walz sets goal of at least 35,000 tests per week

During his daily COVID-19 update, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz stressed his goal of increasing state testing capacity to 35,000 to 40,000 tests per week, in order to put Minnesota on a path towards reopening.

This would correspond to 5,000 or more COVID-19 tests per day. Currently, on a typical day, Minnesota labs perform between 1,000 and 1,500 tests, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) website.

According to Walz, the increased capacity will ideally be a combination of diagnostic tests—the type of tests that Minnesota is currently performing—and serology tests, which determine whether an individual has COVID-19 antibodies in their bloodstream from prior exposure. Serology tests have the advantage of not requiring a nasal swab, which would alleviate some of the supply chain challenges that Minnesota currently faces for testing.

Serology testing is currently still under development, said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Due to a relaxed FDA approval process designed to speed the tests’ arrival on the market, some serology test variants are likely to be unreliable, she added.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,809 cases of COVID-19 and 87 deaths.

Malcolm noted that 108 long-term care facilities in the state have seen at least one case of COVID-19. Half of those sites have only one case, she noted, suggesting that containment efforts within the facilities are seeing success.

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Tuesday, April 14: Roughly 14% of Minnesota labor force has applied for unemployment insurance

Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz included important medical and economic data, offering a clearer picture of the effects of the pandemic statewide.

COVID-19 fatalities in Minnesota are still heavily skewed towards the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. About 98.5% of Minnesotans who have died of COVID-19 had an underlying or preexisting health condition, Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann reported during the conference. The deceased individuals ranged in age from 56 to 100 years old, with a median age of 87, she added.

Ehresmann noted that Minnesota’s death count includes only those individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. It is possible that some individuals have died of the disease without ever being tested.

Of the 79 fatalities in the state, 57 were associated with long-term care facilities, Ehresmann added. Minnesota is currently reporting 1,695 cases of COVID-19.

Steve Grove, state commissioner of employment and economic development, announced that in the past month, Minnesota has received twice the number of unemployment insurance applications that it received in all of 2019. About 14% of the Minnesota labor force has applied for unemployment insurance, Grove said.

Close to 15% of applicants are under the age of 25, Grove reported, with 21% being over 55. A quarter of applicants have a high school diploma or less.

The pandemic’s economic fallout has disproportionately affected people of color in Minnesota. Among people of color in the state’s labor force, almost 26% have applied for unemployment insurance, as opposed to just over 12% of white Minnesotans in the labor force. 

As Minnesota faces challenges in acquiring enough testing supplies and personal protective equipment, Gov. Walz advocated for the possibility of regional cooperation on manufacturing in the Midwest.

Walz also said his team is interested in exploring the use of serology tests to identify individuals who have had COVID-19 and might therefore have immunity. Such tests are being fast-tracked for approval by the Federal Drug Administration. Jan Malcolm, state commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health, noted that there are concerns about the reliability of some serology tests coming onto the market.

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Monday, April 13: Walz emphasizes “test, trace, isolate” strategy

During his daily COVID-19 update, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz emphasized that the key to reopening the state economy is developing a robust strategy of widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolating affected individuals. Walz conceded that current supplies of tests and personal protective equipment are far before what is needed to implement such a strategy.

Minnesota has conducted about 40,000 COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began. Walz said he hopes to eventually test that many people on a weekly basis. 

Minnesota will need to find innovative solutions to confront supply chain challenges and make testing widely available, the governor said. He added that his team does not currently have enough information to say whether business closures will extend beyond May 4.

Myron Frans, Minnesota commissioner of management and budget, reported that his office will release state budget projections in early May to offer a better picture of the effects of COVID-19 on the state’s finances. 

The state has also implemented a hiring freeze on all executive branch positions not related to COVID-19 needs, Frans said. Gov. Walz, his chief of staff, and his 24 cabinet commissioners will take a 10% pay cut for the rest of the year, he added.

Charlie Zelle, chair of the Metropolitan Council, announced that Metro Mobility will now offer free transport to and from work for essential healthcare workers in the Twin Cities area. Public transport has been cut back since the pandemic began, Zelle said, leaving Metro Mobility with excess capacity that can now be directed towards supporting healthcare workers.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,650 cases of COVID-19 and 70 deaths, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health.

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Friday, April 10: Additional information released on University of Minnesota COVID-19 model

Minnesota today released additional information on the University of Minnesota epidemiological model that Gov. Tim Walz is using to inform state COVID-19 policy. The model—one of several that the governor’s team is consulting—was created by experts at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

State health economist Stefan Gildemeister briefed reporters and state lawmakers on the model today, according to the Pioneer Press. The briefing comes after repeated inquiries from the press at Walz’s daily COVID-19 conferences, asking for additional details and greater transparency on the model.

The video recording and slide deck from Gildemeister’s presentation are available to the public on a new section of Minnesota’s COVID-19 website dedicated to the model. The new webpage also includes frequently asked questions, an infographic, and technical documentation for the model.

According to resources on the webpage, the state plans to eventually make the model accessible to the public in an interactive user interface, as well as publishing its code. The team hopes to release this interface within the month of April.

The university model uses data from other countries and states that are further along their COVID-19 curves, the webpage said. At the same time, it inputs Minnesota-specific information such as demographics, underlying health conditions, and in-state deaths. 

During the daily COVID-19 briefing, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm emphasized that the university model is just one tool being used by Walz’s team. She also stressed the need to recognize the uncertainty inherent in the modelling process.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,336 cases of COVID-19 and 57 deaths, Malcolm said. Thirty-six of those deaths have been among congregate care facility residents.  In Minnesota, 82 congregate care facilities have seen at least one case or exposure, added Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann.

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Thursday, April 9: Walz responds to criticism of stay-at-home order extension

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,242 cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths, Gov. Tim Walz reported at his daily press conference. The state saw 11 new deaths within the past day, the largest daily increase thus far.

During the press conference, Walz responded to reporter questions about state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s criticism of the stay-at-home order. The order, which was set to expire on Friday, April 10, was yesterday extended to May 4.

Gazelka, a Republican, tweeted just before Thursday’s press conference that he disapproved of Walz’s “unilateral” decision to extend the order. He continued with a second tweet questioning the validity of the prediction that Minnesota may require up to 5,000 ICU beds, noting that New York state currently has fewer than 5,000 patients in the ICU. “We are ready for the surge now,” Gazelka wrote.

Walz told the press that his decision to continue the stay-at-home order is backed by the expertise of the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, state hospitals, and several COVID-19 models. 

Gazelka’s criticism marks the first significant partisan rift in Minnesota’s pandemic response. The senator had previously collaborated with Walz on COVID-19 legislation, and earlier tweeted that he welcomed Walz’s decision to allow some non-essential employees to return to work, according to the Star Tribune.

Walz also responded to reports of a COVID-19 outbreak at a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, near Minnesota’s southwestern border. The plant is reporting 80 COVID-19 cases, according to the Star Tribune. Walz mentioned concerns of spillover given that many residents commute between Sioux Falls and Worthington, Minnesota.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly reported that his team is working to provide quarantine options for infected individuals who do not have a place to self-isolate, such as homeless individuals and those living in close quarters with family members. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide reimbursement to Minnesota for the costs of quarantining these individuals in hotel rooms and similar locations, Kelly said.

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Wednesday, April 8: Stay-at-home order extended to May 4

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz today extended the state’s stay-at-home order until Monday, May 4. The order, which began on Friday, March 27, was originally set to expire on Friday, April 10. 

Walz stated during his daily COVID-19 press conference that the stay-at-home order is being extended to correspond to CDC guidelines prescribing social distancing until April 30, and to “buy more time” for Minnesota to slow the spread of the virus. The extension was recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health and hospitals in the state.

The latest modelling projects that the disease’s peak for Minnesota could arrive as early as mid-May or as late as July, Walz said. Based on the model, a minimum of 3,000 ICU beds are expected to be required.

The governor is trying to help some non-essential employees return to work despite the stay-at-home order, although he stressed that this will only be permitted where rigorous social distancing can be maintained. Walz cited landscaping, lawn-mowing, and businesses managing their inventories as sectors that may reopen with appropriate precautions. 

Bars and restaurants, previously slated to be closed until May 1, will now remain closed until May 4 to correspond with the new order, Walz said.

The governor admitted that the state is still struggling to increase supplies of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE). Walz said he is optimistic about acquiring ventilators through Minnesota biotechnology company Medtronic, and added that additional units may become available from other states as their peaks pass.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,154 cases of COVID-19 and 39 deaths, according to Commissioner Jan Malcolm from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

Malcolm also noted that Minnesota has expanded its COVID-19 testing criteria. Childcare providers, first responders, individuals over 65, individuals with underlying health conditions, and individuals living with healthcare workers will now be prioritized for testing if they present symptoms, according to the MDH website. Testing is still largely unavailable to those without symptoms.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that as of Tuesday, April 7, his office has begun processing $600 payments from the federal government, which many unemployed Minnesotans are eligible for under the CARES Act. The payments, which are backdated to March 29, will be sent automatically  to eligible individuals.

Wednesday’s COVID-19 conference marked the first time in two weeks that Walz has delivered his updates in-person with his team. The governor was quarantined at home after coming into contact with an infected individual. Walz displayed no symptoms while in isolation.

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Tuesday, April 7: Extension to stay-at-home order expected tomorrow

Minnesotans can expect an announcement tomorrow extending the state’s stay-at-home order, Gov. Tim Walz said during his daily COVID-19 update. The order will undergo some small changes to get employees back to work wherever possible, he added.

Walz acknowledged the difficulties of social distancing as many religious traditions are preparing for major holidays such as Passover, Easter and Ramadan. He reiterated that people should not gather in large numbers, but encouraged Minnesotans to continue their religious practice in other ways.

Minnesotans have largely followed the stay-at-home order, Walz said. There have been eight incidents statewide where police have written a citation for a violation of the order, according to Walz.

Minnesota is reporting 1,069 cases and 34 deaths from COVID-19. The four most recent deaths were all among long-term care facility residents, according to Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Cases in the state are currently doubling every eight days—a lower rate than in many areas of the country, Malcolm said, although testing disparities still prevent us from seeing the full picture.

According to Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota is not currently counting presumptive cases—individuals who exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but who are not eligible for testing. The state is working to create a definition to identify such cases, she added.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that his office has received over 355,000 unemployment insurance applications since mid-March, representing about 11.4% of the Minnesota labor force.

The burden of unemployment has not fallen equally. Grove reported that 19% of working-age people of color have applied for unemployment insurance in Minnesota, as compared to 9.5% of the white working-age population. In response to this disparity, his office has worked to partner with lenders who serve communities of color. Nearly half of all loans provided through Minnesota’s Small Business Emergency Loan program have gone through these lenders, Grove said.

As the stay-at-home order continues, new sectors of the economy are being affected, Grove said, with applications from employees in transportation, warehousing, information and public administration increasing in the past week.

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Monday, April 6: stay-at-home order likely to be extended

Minnesotans can expect an update on the state’s stay-at-home order by the middle of this week, Gov. Tim Walz reported during his daily COVID-19 press conference. The governor suggested that the order—which is set to expire on Friday, April 10—will likely be extended in light of federal guidelines prescribing social distancing until April 30.

Walz and his team are reviewing the order “sector-by-sector” to identify areas for improvement, he said. The governor will continue to support social distancing while making tweaks to get people back to work wherever possible. For example, a landscaper working alone could potentially return to work without violating distancing guidelines, Walz noted.

The governor also announced an executive order authorizing out-of-state providers to treat patients in Minnesota via telehealth. This practice is typically prohibited by licensing regulations. The executive order states that it will support Minnesotans who access healthcare in neighboring states, as well as those who have recently returned to Minnesota due to COVID-19, such as students who attend college out-of-state.

Carleton is currently facing the opposite problem—students who have left Minnesota are not eligible to access SHAC telehealth services. According to a page about spring break services on SHAC’s website, “Telehealth is not an option for students located outside of Minnesota due to state-specific licensing laws, but we can assist you in accessing local medical and counseling resources in your area.” At a Carleton webinar for parents on Friday, April 3, Dean Carolyn Livingston said that Carleton is looking for ways to make telehealth services available to as many students as possible.

Walz also noted that Minnesota has opened a hotline for reporting incidents of discrimination related to COVID-19, in light of reports of Asian-Americans being targeted in Minnesota. The state is also making efforts to support minority communities by translating new documents related to unemployment insurance into Hmong, Somali, and Spanish.

Larry Herke, Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs, continued by announcing that Minnesota veterans affected by COVID-19 can now apply for grants through his department. The state’s COVID-19 relief package includes $6.2 million to support veterans, he said.

Minnesota is now reporting 986 cases of COVID-19, with 30 deaths, according to Jan Malcolm, Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. There are 115 patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19, with 57 patients in intensive care.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly reported that his team has identified space for more than 2,700 additional hospital beds at alternate sites around the state. Minnesota policymakers are creating plans for when and how these beds might be set up if hospital capacity is exceeded.

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Friday, April 3: Minnesota unveils COVID-19 online dashboard

During his daily COVID-19 update, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz discussed a new integrated Minnesota COVID-19 dashboard that went online today, designed to provide residents with state-specific information updated in real time.

The dashboard has two components, both of which can be accessed through the Minnesota COVID-19 webpage at mn.gov/covid19/. The first page provides statistics on cases in each county, hospitalizations, sources of exposure, age distribution, and fatalities. The second dashboard—focused on the state’s response to the virus—includes data on tests conducted, ICU and ventilator capacity, current supplies of personal protective equipment, and unemployment claims.

Walz declined to say whether Minnesota’s two-week stay-at-home order—set to expire on Friday, April 10—will be extended. However, he acknowledged the possibility that the order will be extended to conform with federal guidance prescribing social distancing through April 30.

Walz also commented on an order that President Trump issued on Thursday, April 2, which will require Minnesota-based manufacturing giant 3M to sell the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as many N95 masks as the agency requests. This order stems from the Defense Production Act, a wartime manufacturing measure that Trump invoked last week.

The governor expressed concern that although the federal government has urged states to leverage their own supply chains to acquire scarce supplies, this new order means that Minnesota can no longer look to in-state mask production at 3M, as these masks will be diverted to FEMA.

Walz said that he has not yet been in contact with Mike Roman, the CEO of 3M, following recent events. Trump lashed out against 3M on Twitter yesterday, while 3M issued a statement today criticizing the federal order that the company stop exporting masks to Canadian and Latin American markets, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

Jan Malcolm, commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), continued by emphasizing that Minnesotans may choose to wear cloth masks. Such masks would serve primarily to prevent the wearer from transmitting the virus to others, especially since COVID-19 can be transmitted while individuals are asymptomatic.

Malcolm emphasized that wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing. In addition, medical-grade masks must be reserved for healthcare professionals. MDH has hesitated to prescribe cloth mask use for all Minnesotans due to the potential for misunderstanding these issues, Malcolm said.

Malcolm also spoke to the development of serology tests, which could be used to determine if an individual has previously had COVID-19. This could be helpful for tracking asymptomatic spread as well as immunity. Such a test is currently under development at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Paul Schnell, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, spoke about COVID-19 measures in the state correctional system. Early next week, stay-with-unit plans will be implemented in all Minnesota correctional facilities, he said. These plans will allow prisoners to have contact only with staff and others in their living unit.

Although Minnesota prisons and jails have taken steps such as screening staff and limiting visitors, other social distancing measures have not yet been applied, with many inmates still eating meals together in large numbers. Social distancing at meals will be increased next week, Schnell said, along with cloth mask distribution. He emphasized the difficulty of social distancing while avoiding inhumane practices such as keeping inmates locked in their cells indefinitely.

The Department of Corrections is looking at early release for candidates serving sentences for non-violent crimes who are within 90 days of release, Schnell said. The department will also explore how conditional medical release—a Minnesota legal provision that can be used to release inmates with “grave” medical conditions—might be applied under COVID-19. Historically, the provision has been used primarily in end-of-life situations, according to Schnell.

Two Minnesota correctional facilities have positive cases, with testing pending at two other facilities. One site, Moose Lake, has seven confirmed cases and a total of 13 cases presumed positive due to symptoms.

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Thursday, April 2: Minnesota K-12 students unlikely to return to school this spring

The chances that Minnesota K-12 students will return to school this spring are “relatively slim,” Governor Tim Walz told the public during his daily COVID-19 update. School buildings are currently closed through at least May 4. 

Carleton College has yet to announce whether students will return to campus on May 4 for the last five weeks of the term. Federal guidelines are currently prescribing social distancing measures through at least April 30.

Steve Kelley, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, continued by announcing that Minnesota health insurance plans have agreed to waive cost-sharing for testing and hospitalization related to COVID-19 through at least May 31. 

The agreement currently applies to in-network care only, but Walz and Kelley said they will continue to work with the plans if the crisis requires many Minnesotans to be hospitalized out-of-network.

Minnesota is currently reporting 742 cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths. Eleven of these deaths have occurred among long-term care facility residents, according to Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann.

In the interest of public health, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will release the names of long-term care facilities above a certain size that have reported at least one COVID-19 case, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. Forty-seven long-term care facilities in Minnesota have reported at least one case. Of these 47 facilities, 11 are reporting multiple cases, according to Malcolm. She stressed that both residents and workers in congregate care facilities should be prioritized for COVID-19 testing.

Governor Walz continued by responding to concerns from the press that social distancing measures are not being adequately implemented in Minnesota prisons and jails. The state is considering measures to accelerate the release of prisoners who are within 30 to 60 days of their release time, Walz said, in an effort to reduce the number of inmates.

Walz also mentioned that at the request of Minnesota hospitals, the state will explore possible licensing measures for healthcare professionals from out of state who wish to work in Minnesota during the pandemic.

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Wednesday, April 1: Supply shortages remain dire despite federal assurances

During the daily Minnesota COVID-19 briefing, Governor Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm spoke about continued shortages of testing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Requests to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have often failed to result in new shipments, Malcolm said. According to Walz, federal reassurances about testing and PPE remain at odds with state officials’ experiences on the ground. Minnesota companies and laboratories are stepping up to manufacture supplies, but they too are finding that key components are on backorder.

The state is currently reporting 689 COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths. Among confirmed cases, the median age is 47, Malcolm said.

Minnesota is also reporting its first COVID-19 case within the state prison system after an individual at Moose Lake Correctional Facility tested positive, according to Malcolm. The state is working directly with Moose Lake to respond to the case and isolate the individual.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly noted that many people are offering to sew homemade masks in face of the PPE shortage. Although such cloth masks are not adequate for healthcare providers on the frontlines, Kelly said, they may help prevent infectious individuals from spreading the disease, as well as helping to protect healthy individuals. Because COVID-19 is spread primarily by droplets, a cloth mask could provide good “source control” for an infectious person, Kelly explained.

Increased use of cloth masks in congregate living facilities could help prevent asymptomatic individuals from spreading the virus within these vulnerable communities. Kelly encouraged Minnesotans who sew masks to distribute them locally to transit workers, the elderly, caregivers, incarcerated individuals, and jail employees, as well as to hospital employees who do not work directly with patients. 

Cloth mask usage is currently prioritized for individuals in congregate care facilities and lower-risk healthcare positions, said Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresman. However, according to Malcolm, it would “not be overprotective” for any individual to wear such a mask when they leave the house. FDA-grade masks, such as N95 masks, should be diverted solely to frontline healthcare workers.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove continued by noting that his office has seen an increased number of applications from healthcare workers, as procedures like elective surgeries and dental check-ups have been halted. Grove encouraged these individuals to consider applying for jobs in other areas of healthcare that are in critical need of workers.

Grove said that those who apply for unemployment insurance can expect a check within one to two weeks. The benefits will be backdated to the date that the individual was separated from their pay, he said. 

In face of the worsening nationwide crisis, Walz said that he will make a decision next week about whether Minnesota’s stay-at-home order will be extended. The governor is not currently considering any type of increased enforcement beyond a stay-at-home order.

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Tuesday, March 31: Minnesota identifies alternative sites for medical care

During the daily Minnesota COVID-19 press conference, State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly outlined plans to identify alternate sites for medical care, as projections indicate that COVID-19 is likely to overwhelm the state’s healthcare capacity. Minnesota is currently reporting 629 cases and 12 deaths due to COVID-19.

According to Kelly, the Alternate Care Site Planning Team has identified five sites throughout the state that could accommodate up to 600 beds. His team hopes to eventually identify 2,750 beds, including 1,000 in the Twin Cities metro area and 1,750 in Greater Minnesota.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove provided an update on demographic information for unemployment insurance applicants. He noted that 38% of applicants since March 16 hold a high school diploma or less, while 41% have some college or an associate’s degree. The state has seen 255,000 applications since March 16.

Heather Mueller, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Education, announced that statewide standardized testing requirements for K-12 students have been waived. This means that the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) will not be administered. 

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Monday, March 30: Distance learning begins for Minnesota K-12 students

After the first weekend of the state stay-at-home order, Minnesota is reporting 576 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths, Governor Tim Walz said in his daily COVID-19 update.  

Thirty-one congregate care facilities—a category that includes sites such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters—have reported at least one case, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. As soon as one case is reported, the state immediately begins working with that facility to implement an action plan.

Minnesota students grades K-12 began online classes today through the state’s distance learning program. This follows an eight-day planning period for educators that began on March 18. Many schools served meals and offered childcare during this time, according to Heather Mueller, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Education.

Walz reported that Minnesotans appear to be taking the stay-at-home order seriously. Throughout the month of March, traffic flow has dropped more than 70% in the state, he said. 

Walz clarified that essential employees who are immunocompromised, or otherwise at high risk for contracting COVID-19, should not report to work. In response to reports that some employers are still requiring such employees to work, Walz encouraged affected workers to contact state offices to report a breach of the stay-at-home order. The state intends to enforce the order if necessary, he said.  

The governor also acknowledged that the stay-at-home order presents challenges for victims of domestic violence. Over the weekend, two-thirds of police calls were related to domestic violence, he said. Walz reiterated that the order encourages residents to leave their homes if their living situation is unsafe. Domestic violence shelters are essential services and will remain open.

The state continues to prioritize the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE) by working with Minnesota companies and investigating new supply chains. State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly told residents that they can donate PPE at several Salvation Army locations statewide. 

Kelly also mentioned that blood banks are facing shortages. He encouraged Minnesotans to donate blood, noting that facilities have taken steps to ensure the safety of donors.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove continued by announcing a new system to streamline unemployment insurance applications, as the state faces an unprecedented application volume. Residents will now be asked to apply on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday based on the last digit of their Social Security number. Thursday and Friday will be open to all applicants. 

Grove said that Minnesota has received more unemployment insurance applications since March 16 than it did in all of 2019. He encouraged Minnesotans in search of work to look into critical industries—such as nursing, personal care services, and security services—that are currently hiring in large numbers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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