Coronavirus Daily Briefing: Minnesotans urged to comply with stay at home order

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Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz continued to urge Minnesotans to comply with the stay at home order that will go into effect on Friday night.

An executive order was signed by the governor Wednesday, prompting the two-week period that will begin Friday night (March 27) at 11:59 p.m. through Friday, April 10. The order also includes more limited social distancing plans with a focus on people at the greatest risk of COVID-19 complications — mainly people who are elderly or have underlying health conditions.

Walz said the ages in Minnesota of confirmed cases range from 5 months old to 104 years old. As of Thursday, two people have died from the virus in the state and 346 total people have contracted COVID-19. The Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Lab has processed 6,849 tests, and private labs have completed 6,101 tests — private lab test totals had not been reported prior to Wednesday.

The governor added he and legislators discussed many initiatives Wednesday night that include resources for families, businesses, child care and the homeless population. The Minnesota House passed the COVID-19 response bill Wednesday afternoon and the Senate was working to do the same.

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An emergency child care grant program in Greater Minnesota has been established for families in need, done through the Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

"We are looking to be more efficient and more effective through public-private partnerships once COVID-19 has passed," Walz said.

Walz also addressed a growing issue involving discrimination and hate speech towards Asian-Pacific residents of the state.

"One time is too many," he said. "This is not who we are."

The governor again addressed the stay at home order, stating the order was made to slow transmissions of the virus and buy more time to prepare. He asked residents of the state to "be wise about" leaving home.

"You can still go get groceries, you can still get medicine. Just be sure to practice safe, social distancing while doing so," he said. "I encourage people to go outside, just be sure you’re close to home."

Residents returning to the state are still allowed to do so. State borders will not be closed, per the new executive order. Walz advises those individuals returning from another state to practice protocols and monitor symptoms, and if anyone wants to visit the doctor, they are urged to call ahead to schedule an appointment.

When referring to Italy and its current state, Walz said, "we’re looking to where things are going to be." As of Thursday, Italy had reported 80,589 COVID-19 cases and over 8,000 deaths. The United States as of Thursday had 80,071 cases confirmed and over 1,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said state leaders are continuing to look at neighboring states to learn how the coronavirus continues to spread.

She also expressed her sorrow and condolences to the two families who lost loved ones to the coronavirus in the state.

Malcolm encouraged Minnesotans to limit visits to "retreat spots," such as cabins.

"As the weather gets nicer, I know it’s a huge part of who we are to enjoy cabin life," she said. "But I urge Minnesotans to try to refrain from doing such travel."

The reasoning behind that motion is not letting smaller, rural communities get overloaded with people.

MDH is continuing to focus on helping out vulnerable populations as well, such as thinking of locations to have long-term care facilities.

Joe Kelly, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said during the phone conference that it’s an essential need to expand health care facility capabilities. An effort is being made to expand capacity inside existing hospitals.

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"Hospitals are converting freed-up space for things like elective procedures for virus care," Kelly stated. "Alternate care sites are not for people that need immediate care for virus-related reasons." One example for those needs include a breaking a bone and recovering from the procedure.

If it gets to that point, Kelly said sports arenas and convention centers would create significant challenges in treating patients.

"If you have some time and want to help out, take full advantage! Volunteers are always needed at food shelves and banks, homeless shelters, donating blood or providing cash donations to a charitable organization," said Kelly.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said the next few weeks will be difficult for small businesses. He said DEED continues to work on an unemployment insurance program, where 5.9% of the labor force uses the program, as well as a small business loan guarantee program.

According to Grove, about 182,000 unemployment applications have been submitted as of Thursday. Grove said the department on average per day this week has seen about 17,000 applications submitted.

"Many employers are hiring right now, anywhere from health care, transportation material moving, sales and grocery," Grove said. Those looking for employment opportunities can go here.

The DEED website offers a ‘phone a friend’ campaign that helps individuals during the application process.

Dr. Health Mueller, Deputy Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, said during the call state leaders are constantly in touch with school leaders. She said they aren’t asking parents or guardians to become teachers or educators during the distance learning period.

"Reach out to schools, teachers with any questions or concerns," Mueller said.

Districts plan to have distance learning plans posted on their respective websites sometime between Friday and Monday.

Over 67,600 meals have still been served to kids during this pandemic. The Hunger Impact Partners have established a ‘Free Meals for Kids’ app, that helps families find free meals for kids across the state.

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The governor said it’s too early to make a decision on some events scheduled in the future, such as the Minnesota State Fair in late August and early September.

"As things evolve, we’ll see where we are," Walz said.

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Walz was adamant in stating that even if things are "better," precautions will still be necessary.

Any adjustments being made to virus modeling will come from the University of Minnesota and the MDH, according to Malcolm. Those models will be shared with the public, however, there is still "some work to go yet" on making them available and displayed in a way that’s useful to the public.

Walz has asked the federal government for consistency in terms of new guidelines, as Minnesota will continue to operate on CDC guidelines.

He also addressed the current state of Minnesotans cooperating with the new guidelines, saying, "Cooperation of Minnesotans has been absolutely spectacular."