Coronavirus Daily Briefing: State, federal leaders working to get aid distributed

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Gov. Tim Walz and state leaders on Wednesday afternoon said they’re working with federal officials to get aid distributed to unemployed Minnesotans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor also announced he’ll give his State of the State address on Sunday at 7 p.m. on YouTube Live. It had previously been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor’s Fishing Opener is also being postponed to May 2021 but fishing will still be open this year, Walz said.

As for the stay at home order, Walz said he and state leaders are still waiting on the latest data before deciding if the order will be extended but noted that they are seeing evidence that the order and social distancing guidelines are helping slow the spread of COVID-19. A formal decision on extending the stay at home order will be made next week, Walz said.

"Let’s just do this and do it the right way. It is going to make a difference in the peak," Walz said of social distancing and following the stay at home order.

Over 272,000 unemployment insurance applications have been filed in the state so far during the pandemic, with over 17,000 Tuesday, which is up slightly from last Tuesday, according to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove. Grove again noted that many businesses are looking to hire workers and encouraged Minnesotans without work who are able to look for businesses that are hiring.

As far as how long it will take for people applying for unemployment insurance to get paid, Grove said it will take a week or two from the point the application is submitted, which he noted is quicker than usual as DEED is working hard to get through them quickly. Grove also said checks will be back-dated to cover from when each individual’s unemployment actually started, not just when the application was filed.

Grove added that DEED’s website is now offering more guidance for small businesses and noted the other programs are already available to help them.

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Many people are also asking DEED about getting money from the federal stimulus bill that was passed last week and Grove assured Minnesotans that the state is working to get funding for them as quickly as possible.

Grove said they’re working with federal officials to determine what can be done to help anyone not yet covered by unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers, but said federal authorities say it could still take a couple weeks before a program to help those workers is developed. Walz and Grove said DEED knows many Minnesotans are affected by that and knows patience isn’t an option for everyone, but said they’re working as quickly as possible to get help for those individuals as soon as possible.

Grove also said federal officials told DEED some of the federal relief for workers in need of more help through the CARES Act could be coming in the next few days. Benefit extensions are also available.

With holidays coming up, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm urged Minnesotans to avoid gathering with others in person and encouraged only visiting over the phone or by virtual means.

Blood donations have been in great need, according to officials, and Malcolm assured people Wednesday that giving blood is safe and encouraged anyone who can give blood to do so.

Minnesota still hasn’t received any supplies requested from the federal government, Malcolm said, although the state has talked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services multiple times. Malcolm noted that state hospitals have stepped up and Minnesota is getting by with the supplies it currently has but is in need of more supplies for testing, hospitals and other COVID-19 response efforts for the coming weeks.

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Wednesday, MDH reported 60 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 689 cases. Seventeen total deaths have also been reported. The department stated, as of Wednesday, the state has completed 8,280 tests and private labs have completed 12,911 tests. Of the total, 122 cases have required hospitalization. Additionally, 342 patients no longer need to be isolated.

MDH: 5 new deaths reported Wednesday, COVID-19 cases total 689 in Minnesota

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the virus has infected about 883,225 people worldwide and killed about 44,156. More than 185,377 people have recovered so far.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said the department has received over 800 offers to help in various ways, and Kelly thanked Minnesotans for their response and willingness to help. He also said many people have offered to sew cloth masks to combat the shortage of N95 masks. He urged anyone willing to sew masks to do so and distribute them locally to those who need them, if possible.

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Malcolm also noted that a discussion about masks was ramping up at the federal level but right now, the focus is to get cloth masks to workers on the front lines, such as health care workers. In the future, cloth masks may be helpful for everyone, though, Malcolm said.

Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller added that the department is getting good feedback from school districts about distance learning, but said they’re monitoring some glitches and outages on some educational sites used by schools. However, educators are working through the issues.

Mueller reiterated that the state received a waiver to cancel standardized MCA tests this year, which the department announced Tuesday.

Walz again tried to reassure Minnesotans that he and state leaders know many people are strongly affected in negative ways by the coronavirus pandemic and the related closures ordered to combat it, but asked people to be patient, saying state leaders are working as quickly as they can to get help to everyone who needs it.

"We’re in this together, Minnesota, and we’ll win this together," Walz said.