March 24 update on COVID-19 in Minnesota: Hospitals prep for surge; Walz sees curbs beyond Easter

A man wearing a mask carries boxes.
Michael Koehler carries helps load boxes of N95 masks collected on Tuesday outside the Minnesota Nurses Association offices at 345 Randolph Ave. in St. Paul. Teamsters Local 120 helped bring donated items to the State Emergency Operations Center to be distributed to hospitals.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: 8:48 p.m. | Posted: 5:30 a.m.

Minnesota had 262 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, up from 235 Monday. The state continued to report only one death from the disease.

Fifteen patients are currently hospitalized out of a total of 25 since the pandemic reached the state; 88 patients who tested positive no longer need to be isolated, according to the state Health Department.

Across Minnesota, hospitals are racing now to prepare for an expected spike in patient care as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads.

Minnesota has 243 adult intensive care beds available with seven people currently in the ICU, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday, and that's why it's critical people continue taking measures aimed at “bending the curve.”

Walz said preventative actions so far have slowed infection rates in Minnesota and dampened a potential spike, but cautioned that more waves of coronavirus cases will come and that continued mitigation efforts will need to last months. He said that cellphone data and other information shows that social distancing is happening, adding,“Minnesotans are taking this seriously.”

“There is no doubt that this is going to take some time,” Walz said. “It's going to be well beyond Easter (April 12), and I don't think it does us any good to pretend that it's not.”

The DFL governor also said in his Tuesday briefing that University of Minnesota researchers have been working on some modeling data, which would give state officials a better idea of when Minnesota will reach its peak number of COVID-19 cases.

That information will help inform Walz and his administration on whether social distancing measures are working as they stand now, or whether adjustments need to be made. It’s not clear when this modeling will be available, but it could be out as early as this week.

Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management director, said officials are talking about the possibility of "alternative health care facilities" and said they're working through possibilities such as setting up facilities in a motel or basketball gym.

"We're in good shape now but we need to be prepared to expand that system very quickly,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Minnesota Hospital Association said it was pulling together plans to gather medical masks and inventory ventilators.

A Twin Cities team is working “to collect and get a visual on where this equipment is, where it should be warehoused, who needs it most and how to distribute it,” said Dr. Rahul Koranne, the hospital association president. “A lot is going on and we are actively preparing day and night.”

Koranne said it was too early to tell whether cases in Minnesota will exceed hospitals capacity to care for critically ill patients. He urged people to avoid personal contact to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Other updates Tuesday:

  • Minnesota has started a $30 million, no-interest emergency loan program for small businesses, which could make up to 5,000 businesses eligible for loans between $2,500 and $35,000.

  • Minnesotans claims for unemployment insurance continue to soar following the closure of many restaurants and other businesses because of the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Walz is planning to extend the order closing bars and other businesses while restricting restaurants to take-out only.

  • The system that lists homes for sale in Minnesota and helps connect real estate agents, buyers and sellers has stopped scheduling open houses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Science Museum of Minnesota said Tuesday they would temporarily lay off much of their staff and remain closed given the financial crisis driven by the coronavirus.

  • Sixteen health centers in Minnesota will share $1 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

  • 3M said it is turning to Ford Motor Co. to help ramp up production of some of its personal protection equipment for medical professionals.


Overnight curfew imposed on the Red Lake Reservation

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa is imposing a nighttime curfew in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The resolution from the tribal council prohibits people from being outside from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. unless they're going to or from a job or they have a medical emergency.

Red Lake Tribal Secretary Sam Strong said businesses on the reservation are closed at night anyway, so there's not much reason for people to be out.

"We do have an at-risk community here. And so we are very much inclined to take actions that protect the well-being of our elders and those most at risk for complications," said Strong.

The council will decide whether to continue the curfew in about a month.

Around 8,500 people live on the northern Minnesota reservation. Strong says he knows of no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the reservation.

— Matt Sepic | MPR News

Cook County board asks tourists, second-home owners to stay away — for now

The Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an advisory on Tuesday, asking tourists and seasonal property owners not to visit the North Shore county.

The commissioners say Cook County, which lies at the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead region and borders Canada, Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters, lacks the health care infrastructure to care for visitors. And more than a quarter of its population is 65 or older, the second highest percentage in the state.

The advisory is not legally enforceable. It's modeled after a similar advisory passed by Bayfield County in northwest Wisconsin.

Most resorts in the region have closed or have announced plans to temporarily shut down. Tourism makes up more than 80 percent of the economy in Cook County, which includes four state parks, the Gunflint Trail, and the towns of Lutsen, Tofte and Grand Marais.

"As much as we love these people and we need them there and they’re an important part of our community and economy, right now is not the time for them to be here,” said Jim Boyd, the executive director of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce, which supported the move.

— Dan Kraker | MPR News

Attorney General Ellison cracks down on price-gouging

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says his office began its enforcement efforts immediately after Gov. Tim Walz's executive order banning price-gouging on essential goods during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency went into effect Saturday.

Ellison said so far, his office has received more than 300 price-gouging complaints on goods and services. Those include toilet paper, rice, cleaning products, face masks, eggs, butter and water. Ellison's office has made more than 70 visits to Minnesota retailers during the past four day to check prices and investigate complaints of price-gouging.

Ellison’s office on Tuesday said it has sent a warning letter to the Eau Claire, Wis.-based retailer Menards, following complaints of price gouging on cleaning supplies, bleach and face masks. A spokesperson for the company said they have not seen Ellison's letter.

The attorney general also said that it forced a St. Paul tobacco shop to reduce prices after allegedly charging $80 for a 36-pack of toilet paper.

“I will do everything in my power to help ensure Minnesotans can afford their lives and are protected from pandemic profiteering by people who are trying to line their pockets during this crisis at Minnesotans’ expense,” Ellison said in a statement. The Democratic attorney general said anyone who sees price-gouging on essential goods should report it to his office immediately.

— Matt Sepic | MPR News and The Associated Press

Jobless claims continue to jump

Minnesotans claims for unemployment insurance continue to soar following the closure of many restaurants and other businesses because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We're up to 149,443 applications for unemployment insurance, about a third of those in the food preparation services industry,” Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said Tuesday.

Not everyone who applies for benefits may qualify, including people who are self-employed.

During the Great Recession, the number of people collecting unemployment benefits peaked at about 111,000 in June 2009, according to data collected by Grove’s agency. Minnesota’s unemployment rate hit 8 percent during the Great Recession and reached nearly 9 percent in the early 1980s.

— Martin Moylan | MPR News

Home sale open houses suspended

The system that lists homes for sale in Minnesota and helps connect real estate agents, buyers and sellers has stopped scheduling open houses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NorthstarMLS said it has also canceled currently scheduled open house visits in its system.

“The health and well-being of the Realtors who rely on NorthstarMLS for the tools and data that enable your businesses is our paramount concern,” Jim Mosey, the organization’s CEO, said in a statement.

— MPR News Staff

Mass layoffs for MN science, children's museums

The Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Science Museum of Minnesota said Tuesday they would temporarily lay off much of their staff and remain closed given the financial crisis driven by the coronavirus.

The children’s museum, which has a $9 million annual operating budget and 150 full- and part-time employees, said it would furlough 75 percent of its workers effective March 29 and reduce salary and hours for those remaining. It will also suspend exhibit development and production.

Science museum leaders announced a shift to online-only programming, while temporarily laying off 87 percent of its more than 500 employees.

Both museums put out pleas for fundraising, with the children’s museum describing its financial position as “dire.”

— Tim Nelson and Marianne Combs | MPR News

3M, Ford partner to make health care worker equipment

3M said it is turning to Ford Motor Co. to help ramp up production of some of its personal protection equipment for medical professionals.

3M said the car company will start producing its powered air purifying respirators. The full-face masks have a waist mounted, battery powered blower. They're intended to provide respiratory protection for extended periods of time.

3M has doubled its production of smaller, N95 respirators, to nearly 100 million per month. They're making 35 million a month in the U.S., most intended for health care applications.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News


MN nursing home residents and their families deal with restrictions: Across Minnesota, nursing homes have closed their doors to visitors in all but the most dire circumstances to keep the novel coronavirus away from those most in danger of dying from the respiratory illness. State officials say they have confirmed four cases of COVID-19 in elder care facilities.

Why Gov. Walz hasn't invoked shelter in place: Walz said there’s disagreement among experts about whether such a move will help suppress the virus. He says public health officials are still trying to gauge the impact of the restrictions already in place.

Minnesota’s rural communities brace themselves for COVID-19: Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are showing up in rural counties across the state 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.

Travelers from Minnesota still trying to get home after countries impose COVID-19 limits: Minnesotans are still trying to get back after some countries temporarily suspended air travel because of coronavirus concerns. As of Friday, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities reported nearly 1,000 students had already returned from their study abroad programs, but 239 were still overseas.

No toilet paper? Don’t flush anything else: A run on toilet paper at stores due to the coronavirus pandemic is leading wastewater treatment operators to worry that people will use — and flush — other products instead that could cause havoc on sewer systems, if they run out of toilet paper.


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

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.