COVID-19 Daily Briefing: State officials discuss returning Minnesotans to work, length of ‘stay at home’ orders

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During his daily COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Tim Walz and other state leaders spoke about getting Minnesotans back to work while also keeping the state’s residents safe.

Wednesday, Walz extended his ‘stay at home’ order to May 4, keeping a number of non-essential businesses closed.

Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove says he and his staff have been working to find a way to return the 18% of non-critical workers back into the workforce.

"We’re working with our partners at the Health Department and Labor and Industry on what that could look like, what kind of social distancing could we do to get there while making sure we don’t lose any ground on the amazing progress the people of Minnesota have given us on fighting the virus by staying home and social distancing," Grove said.

According to Grove, since March 16, there has been a total of 385,318 applications for unemployment insurance in the state. On Thursday, it was reported 16.8 million Americans applied for unemployment.

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Grove did say the number of applications has been down, which he attributes to the state’s quick response to the pandemic.

During the briefing, Walz was asked about modeling that shows a potential peak in infections and the need for hospitalizations instate in July, and whether that would require continuing to extend the ‘stay at home’ order.

Walz replied, saying the state will continue to monitor the situation and come up with solutions to fight the pandemic, but that sheltering in place for extended periods of time is not sustainable.

"It’s not sustainable economically, it’s not sustainable for people to do it," Walz said.

Walz added later, "We’ve got to find a place that works long-term and is not just shelter in place alone."

At this time, the state is also seeking funding from FEMA that would allow setting up non-congregate sheltering for people who need to self-isolate but do not have a place to do so. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said options could include dorm rooms and hotel rooms.

"Instead of creating a complicated shelter system, we just want to use the space available, compensate the owner and get reimbursed by FEMA," Kelly said. "And we think this simple approach will help Minnesota get through this thing by taking care of people and not adding to the risk of community spread."

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jane Malcolm also used the briefing as an opportunity to clarify how COVID-19 deaths are classified in official records. Malcolm said the department is working with medical certifiers to ensure deaths are reported correctly.

Malcolm said certifiers have to explicitly mention COVID-19 before the department records it as a COVID-19 death. She said the department is working to follow up on records where certifiers said COVID-19 was a "probable" or "suspected" cause of death.

As of Thursday, MDH reported 1,242 total COVID-19 cases in Minnesota with 50 deaths. That’s out of 32,294 samples tested. Of the total, 293 cases have required hospitalization and 145 remained hospitalized Thursday. MDH reported 675 patients have recovered.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the virus has infected over 1.5 million people worldwide and killed about 89,000. More than 339,000 people have recovered so far.

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