Ben Rodgers & Tommy Wiita
Updated: May 01, 2020 06:14 AM
Created: April 30, 2020 12:21 PM
Thursday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced the state's "stay at home" order will be extended two more weeks.
The order, which was put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, was set to expire Monday. It will now last until May 18.
Along with the extension, Walz will allow retail businesses and other non-critical businesses to resume operation with curbside pick-up, starting May 4. Retail businesses will be able to reopen May 4, expecting to put 30,000 Minnesotans back to work. Plans should be developed by businesses and posted for how to tackle this latest challenge in the cog of COVID-19. Employees should also wear masks inside their establishments and when interacting with customers.
Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said their goal is to first get curbside going for retail stores, become acclimated in the way of current life, and then he said the dial can be turned further in the process. Customers are asked to stay in their cars and use contactless payment when shopping at a retail store. Grove said DEED is asking businesses to submit their plans to the state, but it's not required.
Bruce Nustad, President of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said 69,000 retailers are in the state and one in four jobs is touched by retail. He said he is happy to see some retailers return under the new order by Walz. Nustad says curbside options are an important step for retailers through this process.
"We've spent hours and days in conversations," Nustad said, thanking the governor and state commissioners.
With small businesses the most-effected, Grove said it's hard enough to operate these businesses when times are good. In regard to barbershops and salons, this revised order does not change the fact that those businesses will remain closed.
Unemployment insurance applications have risen to around 584,000 applications since March 16, with Grove adding that a downward trend is continuing.
In an executive order issued by the governor last week, some non-critical businesses that are not customer-facing were allowed to return to work Monday. According to Walz and other state officials, the move would allow 80,000 to 100,000 Minnesotans to return to work.
Walz addressed the sense of urgency around the economic situation and added that it's not necessarily a choice between public health and moving commerce back into place. Both can be done, but with safety and caution. Employees should collaborate with their employers to make sure what the plan is, and if employees are not seeing plans being made, they have the option of calling hotlines set up by OHSA to make it known if businesses aren't getting it right.
"If you give the state this time, results will come of it," Walz said.
Come Monday, Walz said 82% of businesses will be open. And he plans to modify the current ban on elective surgeries soon, although he said ultimately hospitals will be ones to sign off on resuming procedures.
While Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he believes the right questions and data were being considered, he doesn't think Walz is easing restrictions fast enough.
"I'm disappointed he's not turning the dial further today," Gazelka said. "I think he should move further and faster."
When asked about summer camps, Gov. Walz said he hadn't made a decision yet. At the briefing, state officials strongly urged folks to wear masks in public when social distancing measures are hard to maintain. And they say folks should continue to work from home as much as possible.
Walz advises those who can keep teleworking to do so. He also advised Minnesotans to wear masks in public, as it's a simple gesture and those go a long way, showing a commitment to community. He asks Minnesotans to "keep doing what you're doing," help businesses by social distancing, wearing masks and weighing in on the elective surgery conversation.
Under the 'stay at home' order, Minnesotans are able to leave their homes for health and safety activities, outdoor activities, gathering necessary supplies, essential travel, the care of others and relocation purposes. However, the governor said during Thursday afternoon's press conference that there isn't much for wiggle room regarding outdoor activities in the revised executive order.
Addressing other events such as graduations and weddings, Walz said the hope at the moment is to have those happening by the end of June, if the new phases and new ways to go about play out as expected.
"The things we like to do most are the exact things the virus wants us to do to spread," Walz said.
So far, Walz said Minnesotans have shown they're capable of social distancing and in return, that flattens the curve. The social settings dial is down across the board for workplace, social and school settings. If curbside and some retail transactions go well, Walz said that's the focus, and then we can continue to move forward in this.
"If you crank that dial wrong, it is catastrophic," the governor said.
Essential workers are exempt from the 'stay at home' order.
The governor said since the first COVID-19 case was discovered in the state on March 6, it has bought "critical time" to prepare the state's response. The state now has seven alternate care sites identified, but they have not been used yet. However, Walz mentioned that the new facilities could start to be used in the next 72 hours.
Regarding testing, the governor said the goal is to test all symptomatic Minnesotans first, then test those on the front lines. All health systems have shown state health leaders that the goal will be reached, according to Walz. More cases are expected to rise, but the governor stated as of Thursday that all hospital beds/stays and deaths are "remaining steady."
The state now has 2,500 critical beds available for patients.
Showing a data chart, Walz said all states and COVID-19 data shows Minnesota is on the lower end in battling this virus.
"That's made by Minnesotans staying home, social distancing, and so forth," Walz said. He went on to say that regardless of a vaccine being unavailable at this time, we can still build slow immunity and not hurt the health care system in the state.
Walz acknowledged that the 'stay at home' order can have a major effect on mental health, domestic violence and economics. The governor mentioned of thinking of ways that help people be happy and healthy, such as social distancing on a baseball field and bringing some sports back.
But, Walz said to those who are saying the state should open businesses on May 1: "You're wrong."
Touching up on equipment and elective surgeries, the governor said in four weeks, hospitals in the state have been successful in building up equipment needed in the hopes elective surgeries will be brought back soon. Walz said they are looking to revise the current ban on those said surgeries. Bringing back those surgeries would also return some revenue to the hospitals, which in return could create an opportunity for those laid off in the health care system to return to work. An announcement is expected in the coming days, Walz said, as hospitals would be the last word to sign off on it.
Regarding dentists, Grove said the biggest issue remains with personal protective equipment. State leaders are continuing to work on plans in person-to-person contact sites, such as a dentist office.
As of Thursday, a total of 5,136 COVID-19 cases were reported by the Minnesota Department of Health. The state has seen a total of 343 COVID-related deaths, according to MDH.
MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in the recent report, six people who died were in their 90s; seven were in their 80s; eight in their 60s; two in their 50s; and one in their 40s. The person who died in their 40s had underlying health conditions, Malcolm said.
"The more we test, the more we're going to find," Malcolm said Thursday. "We're seeing potential for rapid growth."
She said Nobles and Cottonwood counties are examples of big increases lately. Long-term facilities also continue to show patterns. In the latest report, 22 of the 24 deaths were recorded in a long-term care facility. Malcolm said the focus remains on these facilities, but pointed out that a vast majority of people won't need hospitalization if the contract COVID-19. However, those that do will come out of it just fine.
"Wearing masks, social distancing is for first responders, the most vulnerable and for your neighbors," said Walz.
According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the virus has infected about 3.2 million people worldwide and killed about 227,000.
More than 982,000 people have recovered worldwide as of Thursday.
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