Coronavirus Daily Briefing: Governor to make ‘tweaks’ to ‘stay at home’ order, efforts so far ‘making a difference’

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz addressed an array of topics with state leaders on Tuesday during the coronavirus daily briefing.

Walz talked about the importance of the House of Representatives and Senate passing legislation to ensure first responders and health care workers on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 qualify for workers compensation, even if they can’t prove they caught the virus while at work.

Once signed by Walz, the bill will go into effect immediately.

House, Senate pass bill ensuring workers comp to first responders with COVID-19

The governor also praised Cub Foods for the partnership that was announced earlier Tuesday. Cub Foods will use its statewide supply chain network to allow child care providers serving children of emergency workers to secure the products they need at convenient, flexible hours and locations.

"Grocers are working tirelessly to meet the needs of Minnesotans – and they’re going the extra mile for our child care providers and emergency workers," Walz said. "Partnerships like this are critical to keep our communities healthy and safe. I’m grateful to Cub for stepping up in this time of crisis."

Walz announces partnership with Cub Foods to provide critical supplies for child care facilities

Walz also addressed the flooding season that is fast-approaching and what the state plans to do. He said he will soon sign an executive order that will activate the Minnesota National Guard for flooding in Marshall County, and reassured that the state is still able to respond to other issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly added talks with FEMA are continuing and flooding in Oslo will be addressed by the National Guard once Walz signs the executive order.

The governor also mentioned the insulin affordability compromise bill that was once at the forefront of every state leader’s mind months ago. Negotiators with the House Democratic and Senate GOP majorities spent months talking about a possible compromise bill they might have passed in special session last year, but were unable to reach an agreement. The thorniest dispute was over how much insulin manufacturers should have to pay.

"In this moment of unity, in this moment of problem-solving, I think we’re going to get there soon," Walz said about negotiations.

In regards to the virus itself, Walz said there are strong indications that the efforts made are slowing in the state. And with many different holidays and traditions happening around this time, he is reminding Minnesotans to continue to practice social distancing and be safe.

"We hear you on this, we know it’s an important time, but I ask you to keep in mind that we simply want to keep the progress we’ve made going," Walz said. "I know there is a sense of fellowship, especially with holidays coming up, but we certainly don’t want large gatherings."

Walz added he is working with religious leaders to find alternative ways to make sure holidays are special celebrations while keeping everyone safe.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported 34 total deaths in the state due to COVID-19. Minnesota has 1,069 cases confirmed in the state, with 242 cases requiring hospitalization. Eighty-three more cases were reported Tuesday. MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the four deaths announced in Tuesday’s report were all from long-term facilities.

She said one of the ways MDH is tracking the spread of COVID-19 is following cases that are doubling. According to Malcolm, the state is doing well. Since March 18, Minnesota is down to doubling once every eight days, and it reaffirms Walz’s statement in saying the efforts are making a difference and showing promise.

Kris Ehresmann, Director of MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology, said 296 health care workers have tested positive in Minnesota. She added there aren’t any specifics on how many negative tests were health care workers but the department closely follows up on any health care worker showing symptoms.

Walz briefly mentioned the use of masks and said he uses one himself when going out in public, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Concerning the ‘stay at home’ executive order being extended, the governor said federal officials are looking into May and he added state officials will have to make a decision.

"We’re not going to give up on things that are working but I think we can add more things that work to that," said Walz.

In regards to unemployment and Minnesota businesses, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said the unemployment insurance program continues to be a focus. He adds that call lines to the department have opened back up this week and non-English resources have ramped up for residents.

All 45,000 applications stuck due to eligibility issues have been processed after Walz’s order on Friday, Grove said.

DEED Commissioner Grove joins KSTP to answer viewer questions about unemployment insurance

Up to 355,108 unemployment insurance applications have been submitted as of Monday night, which accounts for about 11.4% of Minnesota’s total labor force. However, 13,424 applications were filed on Monday, which is down from previous Mondays. Grove said those days have proven to be the busiest days.

Grove said DEED will automatically add a $600 payment and backdate it for those who are eligible as soon as the Federal Department of Labor passes on guidance to states. People do not have to do anything extra to receive that payment.

Walz said state leaders are doing what they can to estimate when people can return to work, more specifically who. He added that he’s likely to make an announcement regarding the ‘stay at home’ order Wednesday, and hinted that it’ll likely stay in place but hopefully with fewer restrictions so more people can get back to work without compromising anyone’s safety. He also added that will likely be a work in progress in the coming weeks.

"Stick with us on this. We’re doing the best we can. If there’s any possibility at all of getting you back into the workforce without increasing the spread or strain our health care system, that is what we intend to do," he said.

Walz concluded the phone call by thanking residents of the state for complying with efforts, and notes even with more pleasant weather upon us, it’s important to continue social distancing.