Coronavirus Daily Briefing: No decision yet on ‘stay at home’ order, new help for UI program

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Monday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz talked about the state’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to be digging out after a long winter," Walz said, but he reiterated that Minnesota will get through it together and as soon as possible.

Walz also signed two more executive orders in response to the pandemic, announced more than $6 million in grants for Minnesota veterans and launched a discrimination hotline.

When asked about the state’s budget, which had a projected surplus of $1.5 billion in February, Walz acknowledged the surplus is likely gone due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of revenue associated with it. He pledged to get businesses back open as soon as possible, adding that if he thought the virus wouldn’t spread he’d order everyone to open again tomorrow. However, he said the virus and science behind it will drive those decisions to ensure Minnesotans’ health and safety remain the top priority.

Walz also noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Minnesota has the lowest infection rate in the country when talking about the good work Minnesotans are doing in slowing the spread of COVID-19. However, the state isn’t as good at social distancing in recreational areas, Walz said.

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As for the ‘stay at home’ order, Walz said he’s still talking with business leaders, state leaders and looking at the data to see exactly what the order accomplished before making a decision on whether or not to extend it. It is set to expire Friday.

"If there are ways to get some of these things going again, we should try and do that," Walz said.

When asked about the modeling data Walz and state leaders are looking at to make decisions, the governor said they do have intentions to give the public access to that at some point, but noted some of the public models have been significantly off compared to what their models have shown and noted there are certain things they have to take into account before releasing certain data. Walz didn’t commit to a time when that data could become available.

"We’re doing all we can to not keep people in the dark," said Walz.

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm touched on who should be using masks and what kind of masks.

Malcolm reminded Minnesotans that masks are secondary protection and anyone feeling sick still needs to stay home, not just put on a mask. She also said N95 and surgical masks are critical for front line workers, such as health care employees, and urged the public to not try to get them because a cloth or alternative mask will work fine for the public.

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Kris Ehresmann, Director of MDH Infectious Diseases, noted that state health officials have detected large family cluster COVID-19 cases but not a case where one event or person contributed to mass spread.

Malcolm also praised the work of health officials and state leaders, saying, "Without the care and work done by the staff, we would have an additional crisis to deal with."

Earlier Monday, MDH reported 51 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 986 cases in the state and 30 total deaths. The department stated, as of Monday, the state has completed 8,876 tests and private labs have completed 19,252 tests. Of the total, 223 cases have required hospitalization and 470 patients no longer need to be isolated.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the virus has infected about 1,289,380 people worldwide and killed about 70,590. More than 270,372 people have recovered as of Monday.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said they’ve so far processed applications for 90% of unemployment insurance (UI) applicants and continue to focus heavily on that program. As of Sunday night, Kelly said more than 342,000 UI applications had been filed since March 16.

Grove also talked about one of the executive orders signed by Walz Monday, which deals with UI. Grove said the order allows 45,000 qualified people who were stuck in the process due to some administrative requirements to now move through the process and get paid. The order also frees up some more federal assistance.

Grove noted DEED is in contact with federal partners but is still awaiting guidance on when funding will be distributed and when certain changes can be made to help those still not covered by current UI guidelines, such as self-employed people. However, Grove urged anyone who is self-employed to fill out an application for UI immediately, saying even though you’ll be denied currently, you’ll be ready as soon as federal officials approve those changes to make self-employed workers eligible for coverage.

When asked about the state’s economic projections, Grove said he’s not worried because of federal assistance the state is getting and noted Minnesota is still in good shape.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said when Walz’s major disaster declaration request to the federal government goes through, it will allow for additional funding and some reimbursement for the state in fighting COVID-19. A response on that is expected "soon."

Kelly also said his department is in close contact with FEMA, saying, "Like most things in life, relationships do matter and we do have a good one with FEMA."

Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke reminded veterans who are feeling ill to call the VA before showing up in person for treatment. Proper medical assistance will then be coordinated.

Herke also touched on the more the $6 million in grants Walz announced earlier in the day and urged anyone seeking assistance or more information on the grants to go to the VA’s website.