Coronavirus Daily Briefing: Walz, state health officials discuss JBS pork plant cases, President Trump’s comments and protesters

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During the state’s daily COVID-19 briefing Friday, Gov. Tim Walz and officials with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) discussed how they are dealing with cases at the JBS pork plant in Worthington, President Donald Trump’s comments on liberation and the protesters outside the Governor’s Residence.

Walz began the briefing discussing the Midwest state compact between the states of Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. The bipartisan group of governors will work together to tackle the many issues that plague those states and others amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Walz.

A new executive order was signed Friday by Walz as well, expanding outdoor recreation opportunities. The order will allow for golfing, boating, fishing, hunting and hiking as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. Walz said that lessons have been learned over the last several weeks that allow for this order to be made as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. However, Walz urged that it does not allow for people to travel throughout the state to enjoy these activities. He asked that recreationists use the lakes, courses and trails near their homes.

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Walz also announced a new homemade mask drive that the state is launching. While he noted that these masks aren’t N95 masks that can trap nearly all particles, they still can help prevent others from getting sick. Next Saturday, Walz asked that homemade masks be dropped off at local fire stations.

The governor’s next point focused on the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and the disproportionate effect of the virus on communities of color. He reiterated that mental health care providers remain open, especially through telehealth. He asked that if someone you know is in crisis that you text the Minnesota crisis text line at 741741 or find resources from the state website. Walz noted that he’s aware cases are hitting communities of color at an apparent disproportionate rate and said they are working to deal with these issues.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 633 said at least 19 workers at JBS pork plant in Worthington have already tested positive for COVID-19, and more are believed to be active there. Walz said he is aware of the positive cases and many people who work in that plant may have family that work in the recently closed Smithfield plant across the border in South Dakota. The difference between the JBS plant and the Smithfield plant, according to Walz, is that JBS plant management has been in constant communication with the state government and are setting up testing sites and safe areas across the community. The plant is still up and running, according to Walz, as they gather more personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and continue to expand safety procedures.

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Kris Ehresmann, director of Infectious Diseases for MDH, said health officials have been screening workers at the plant and that a team is in place at the facility. She also mentioned that many workers may be living in situations where isolating is not possible. MDH is working on housing options for those individuals.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm took the podium and announced that the state confirmed 17 more deaths due to COVID-19 over the last 24 hours, pushing the total number of deaths in Minnesota to 111. Friday was the largest day-to-day increase in deaths the state has seen since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Malcolm.

Walz cautioned Minnesotans who may see other states pass their peak, saying that it may create a false sense of security when now is a time to continue preparations.

In response to President Trump’s tweet Friday, which said, "Liberate Minnesota," and is believed to be related to the protest outside the Governor’s Residence, Walz said he tried to call Trump to speak directly to him but was unsuccessful. Walz said he believes Minnesota has been setting up well for the president’s three-step, phased reopening and has been leading the way as the states have been asked.

"I want to be very clear," Walz said of the protesters outside the Governor’s Residence, "if they’re protesting staying home, they’re protesting front line health care workers."

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