March 23 update on COVID-19 in MN: 40-80 percent of Minnesotans could get virus, Walz says

A man in a mask walks past people on the street.
A man walks down Grand Avenue in St. Paul wearing a mask on Sunday. Minnesota had its first confirmed coronavirus-related death over the weekend and five patients were hospitalized in intensive care as of Sunday as COVID-19 continues to spread.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated: 6:49 p.m. | Posted: 5:25 a.m.

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday issued orders halting evictions and establishing emergency loans for small businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continued spreading across Minnesota.

The latest projections indicate that 40 to 80 percent of Minnesotans will have been infected by the virus by the time the pandemic runs its course, Walz said, and the "vast majority" will recover without hospitalization.

He didn’t enact a shelter-in-place order for Minnesota, but said he’s evaluating COVID-19 modeling to see how effective such an order would be, compared to other mitigation efforts.

Any shelter-in-place order, the governor said, would “probably have to be more like multiple weeks to months,” rather than just a week or two.

Also Monday, Minnesota has extended the state income tax deadline to July 15 with no penalty or interest, Walz said, and told reporters his revised budget request seeks an additional $356 million for coronavirus response.

The governor also halted elective veterinary services to preserve personal protective equipment (PPEs) and activated the National Guard to disperse those supplies from Camp Ripley. State officials are developing a centralized system to manage Minnesota’s stock of PPEs, said Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management director.

Under a small-business loan program, any business closed to government order is eligible for loans of between $2,500 and $35,000, said Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove. He estimated up to 5,000 businesses could tap into the program, which begins later this week.

"No one here in this administration is taking lightly the economic chaos that will come out of this,” Walz said.

Asked about Virginia governor's decision to cancel school for the year, Walz said Monday: "As the situation evolves it may become necessary to do that." For now, he wants virtual and distance learning to take root and applauds parents stepping up.

Earlier Monday, the governor announced he’s working at home as a precaution after learning that a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19. The governor said he has not shown any symptoms — nor has he taken a test — but plans to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Separately, health officials said the number of positive tests in Minnesota had reached 235, up from 169 on Sunday. Sherburne County said it confirmed its first case, a 33-year-old infected through community spread. He is in isolation. One person has died from the disease in Minnesota.

Walz is holding back on telling residents to shelter-in-place. He has been hesitant to declare such an order until there is clear direction to people and affected entities about how to adjust.

Still, officials pleaded with Minnesotans to stay home whenever possible, limit contact with others and wash their hands often.

"We should assume that [COVID-19 is] in all of our communities," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters.

Also on Monday came news that the disease had directly touched the families of two of Minnesota’s most prominent politicians. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a late Sunday night social media post that her brother died in Tennessee from COVID-19, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said her husband is now hospitalized in Virginia with the coronavirus.

Minnesota officials over the weekend announced the state’s first confirmed coronavirus-related death, and five patients were hospitalized in intensive care as of Monday as COVID-19 continued spreading among communities across the state.

“I think the bottom line is that there is a lot of COVID-19 circulating in Minnesota and that's why it's so important that people take the community mitigation measures seriously,” Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious diseases at the Health Department, said Saturday.

Because many dental offices are closed, she said emergency rooms across the state are seeing more people coming in with dental emergencies. She called on Minnesota residents to reach out to their dentist in those cases, so they don’t take up space in ERs. She also asked dentists to make accommodations to provide emergency care.

Ehresmann said there is a “desperate need” for blood donations in Minnesota, with many of the usual donation options (workplace blood drives, etc.) no longer available. She said donating blood is safe, and blood banks have taken steps to ensure social distancing.

A concerning turn in the outbreak: COVID-19 is showing up in long-term care facilities and among health workers, who account for about 1 in 5 confirmed infections.

The state Health Department said at least one COVID-19 is from an assisted living situation, where there can be a high population of elderly and potentially vulnerable residents. They did not identify the facility.

Ehresmann said the coronavirus may also be moving through the health care system.

"We have seen some transmission in the health care setting, but the majority were based on travel,” she said. “We have 34 situations in which health care workers have been infected."

Malcolm said Monday that while there are no cases yet confirmed of health care workers being infected through patient care, "we certainly expect that may be possible."

Minnesota nurses seek donations of N95 protective masks

Nurses report they are extremely short of masks to shield them from the novel coronavirus and other threats. They’re asking people with N95 masks to donate them.

Carrie Mortrud of the Minnesota Nurses Association said a nurse may normally use several masks during a shift but some are now asked to use the same mask for a week.

“Some nurses at some hospitals across the state are being told they have to use them for five shifts. from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday to Friday,” Mortrud said.

Masks will be collected from noon to 2 p.m. through Sunday at the Minnesota Nurses Association Office at 345 Randolph Ave. in St. Paul. The masks will be passed on to the State Emergency Operations Center to distribute to nurses.

The association said as of Monday afternoon, it has collected more than 30,000 masks.

— Martin Moylan | MPR News

MN landlord group urges apartment owners to halt evictions, waive late fees

The Minnesota Multi Housing Association on Monday issued a statement to its members and rental housing providers in the U.S., following Gov. Walz’s order to halt evictions in the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The landlord group calls upon rental property owners in Minnesota to halt evictions on renters who are affected by the coronavirus, waive late fees and provide residents alternative, flexible payment plans until May 31.

The association is also asking apartment owners to temporarily stop new rent increase notifications on all renters from April 1.

— MPR News staff

Metro Transit to reduce bus, rail services by 40 percent

Metro Transit says it is cutting back on its daily service schedule in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Starting Wednesday, all Metro Transit bus routes will operate at Saturday service levels throughout the day except for overnight hours from 11 p.m. through 4:30 a.m. when no bus and train service is provided. Blue and Green Line trains will run every 20 minutes.

The Northstar commuter rail line will run on a reduced schedule, with two inbound trips to Minneapolis on weekday mornings and two outbound trips on weekday afternoons. Express bus service will also be limited during the time.

More information is available on the Metro Transit’s website.

— MPR News Staff

Flanagan says her brother has died after getting coronavirus

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said her brother Ron Golden has died after contracting COVID-19.

In an Instagram post late Sunday Flanagan said her brother, who lived in Tennessee, received a cancer diagnosis some weeks ago. After getting COVID-19, he was placed on a ventilator and a medically induced coma.

Flanagan said her brother's death underlines the importance of people staying home. In the post she wrote "please consider the possibility that you are carrying the virus and don't know it, and then you walk by the next Ron, my big brother, in public."

— Euan Kerr | MPR News

Klobuchar’s husband hospitalized with coronavirus

Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar acknowledged in a Monday social media post that her husband, John Bessler, has the coronavirus.

“He kept having a temperature and a bad, bad cough and when he started coughing up blood he got a test and a chest X-ray and they checked him into a hospital in Virginia because of a variety of things including very low oxygen levels which haven’t really improved,” she wrote. “He now has pneumonia and is on oxygen but not a ventilator.

Klobuchar said because she and John have been in different locations the past two weeks, “I am outside the 14-day period for getting sick, my doctor has advised me to not get a test. As everyone is aware, there are test shortages for people who need them everywhere and I don’t qualify to get one under any standard.”

— MPR News Staff

Fargo-Moorhead buses going fare-free

Public transit officials in Moorhead and Fargo are taking measures to keep buses running safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fargo, N.D., Assistant Transit Director Matthew Peterson said all fares will be suspended starting Monday to limit interaction between riders and drivers, and riders are being encouraged to use the back door on buses.

"If passengers board through the back door and kind of spread themselves out on the bus, then we can keep the service running as long as possible so people are able to get to those essential services such as grocery stores or medical appointments," he said.

Peterson said ridership is down more than 50 percent in Fargo-Moorhead in the past week, but he said many of those still riding the bus need the service to get to essential jobs in the community.

The goal is to keep all bus routes safely running as long as possible. Peterson said they monitor directives from Minnesota and North Dakota state officials.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

New testing site ramping up in Rochester

Health care providers in Rochester, Minn., are trying out a new, large-scale testing site for COVID-19.

Olmsted County Public Health, Olmsted Medical Center and Mayo Clinic collected a limited number of specimens over the weekend for testing, at a drive-thru site at the Rochester fairgrounds.

Specimens will be tested by Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

Health officials said people who think they should be tested for coronavirus should call their primary care provider first. They'll be directed to the site if their symptoms warrant testing.

Officials said the site could be fully operational as early as this week. It would be the third drive-thru testing site in Rochester.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Therapists tap telehealth to connect with patients: Many mental health care providers have shut their doors to in-person visits to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Therapists and other providers have been forced to change the way they practice almost overnight.

Western Minnesota health care providers eye former prison for COVID-19 care facility: A private prison in western Minnesota that closed a decade ago is slated to reopen as a COVID-19 care center. Five health care providers in western Minnesota's Swift, Chippewa and Lac qui Parle counties are joining forces to set up at least a dozen hospital rooms in the former Prairie Correctional Facility. They're getting backing from the three counties.

Coronavirus spread in Minnesota forces North Shore resort owners to make tough decisions: As tourists consider heading up the North Shore, some full-time residents of the Arrowhead region are urging people from the Twin Cities and elsewhere not to visit, out of fear they may inadvertently bring the new coronavirus with them. Some on social media have even suggested a blockade of state Highway 61.

Minnesota’s rural communities brace themselves for COVID-19: Confirmed cases are showing up in rural counties as the virus continues its spread in Minnesota. And because many rural areas have limited health care options — and often a small number of workers to keep critical services going — health workers and local officials are paying close attention to the coronavirus’ trajectory, and bracing themselves as they plan.

With buildings closed, Minnesota faith leaders stay connected with congregations: Churches, mosques, temples and synagogues across Minnesota are closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That means people of faith are facing new routines. So are faith leaders. Some will be preaching to empty sanctuaries or speaking from home, leading services for people watching on their phones and computers.

For some medical providers, P-P-E is being spelled D-I-Y: Hospitals across the country are pleading for masks and other medical supplies, and among those rising to the occasion are people who sew — including some here in Minnesota.

Before Minnesota animal shelter temporarily halts adoptions, hundreds of pets find new homes: On Sunday, the Twin Cities' Animal Humane Society began a temporary closure to the public. So the shelter made a big push over the past week to find homes for hundreds of pets. By Sunday morning, there were just a handful left.

Health officials for weeks have been increasingly raising the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. The disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

The state of Minnesota has temporarily closed schools, while administrators work to determine next steps, and is requiring a temporary closure of all in-person dining at restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as theaters, gyms, yoga studios and other spaces in which people congregate in close proximity.

Map: Confirmed cases across the state