'Buckle it up': Walz orders MN to 'stay at home' to curb virus spread

A man gestures with his hands as he speaks.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks on March 15, 2020, during a press conference providing updates on the state's coronavirus response. Walz on Wednesday ordered Minnesotans to stay at home for two weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 in the state.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Updated: 7:34 p.m. | Posted: 5:30 a.m.

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered Minnesotans to stay at home for two weeks, at least, as part of the state's ongoing efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease.

The order isn’t a complete lockdown and it allows essential activities and services to continue, Walz said. People will be allowed to exercise outdoors and visit the grocery store, for example, with proper social distancing.

“Buckle it up for a few more weeks,” the governor said. The order takes effect Saturday and lasts through April 10.

Walz said it’s impossible to lessen the number of Minnesotans who will become infected with COVID-19, but the stay-home order is intended to push out the time of peak infections so there are intensive care unit beds available for those who need it.

"The thing that Minnesota is going to do is ensure if you need an ICU, it's there,” Walz told the state in a livestreamed address Wednesday.

Minnesota had 235 ICU beds available as of Tuesday, Walz said, adding that about 15 percent of COVID-19 cases will require hospitalization and 5 percent will need intensive care. The remaining 80 percent of infections are expected to be mild.

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The goals of the order, Walz said, include:

  • Build out hospital capacity

  • Increase access to ventilators and other life-saving equipment

  • Increase testing for COVID-19

  • Address personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages for health workers

  • Plan for how to protect and care for vulnerable populations in coming months

  • Assess new data to inform mitigation strategy

Enforcement of the order will focus on education about why it’s important to follow and how to do so, Walz said, rather than punitive measures.

“It is not our desire to write people tickets,” Walz said, adding that law enforcement has been cooperative and will be receiving further guidance.

On-site school closures last into early May under the order. Walz on Wednesday authorized Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker to implement a plan for distance learning for five weeks from March 30 until May 4. The state Education Department will be canceling the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Nearly 80 percent of Minnesota jobs are considered essential under the order, said Steve Grove, the Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner. A list of those jobs is available at a state website. Liquor stores are among businesses that will remain open.

Grove said he expected about 28 percent of working Minnesotans to be temporarily jobless during the extended stay-home period; 59 percent of them will have some kind of access to paid leave.

Walz has already issued orders to keep Minnesotans from congregating in ways that might aid the disease's spread, including shifting bars and restaurants to takeout-only service.

Other states have instituted so-called shelter-in-place rules, although many of those orders are similar to what Minnesota is already doing. Most allow for residents to go to grocery stores and pharmacies, take walks and walk pets.

The plans for extended curbs on daily life come as the state Health Department on Wednesday confirmed 287 cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. Twenty-six people were in the hospital with the coronavirus, with 12 in intensive care. While the state's labs have performed about 6,400 tests, external labs have completed about 5,000 tests for Minnesotans as of Wednesday.

The number of cases is likely at least 10 times as high as the number of testing-confirmed cases, however, and an increasing number of people will likely require hospitalization in the coming days and weeks, according to health officials.

Officials are weighing constructing makeshift hospitals in school gymnasiums if needed. "We're in good shape now but we need to be prepared to expand that system very quickly,” said the state's emergency manager, Joe Kelly.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Hospital Association says more ICU beds are opening up in the state, with the governor’s executive order from a few days ago to temporarily halt elective surgeries in Minnesota.

The association’s president, Dr. Rahul Koranne, said on Wednesday that he is hearing that vacancies are rising for the beds — which will be key as the number of hospitalized cases of COVID-19 increase.

Koranne didn't have specific numbers on bed vacancies, but said it's better than three weeks ago when around 5 percent of beds were open.

As of Wednesday, 122 coronavirus patients no longer required isolation, the Health Department said.

Walz, though, cautioned earlier in the week that more waves of coronavirus cases will come.

“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.”

Walz contradicted President Trump, who, against the guidance and wishes of public health experts, said he "would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter."

Watch the video from Gov. Tim Walz here.

Union calls for protection, support for workers at MSP during COVID-19

The union representing 1,500 passenger service workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport says it's vital they aren't forgotten in any bailout of the airline industry.

Service Employees International Union Local 26 president Iris Altamirano says the janitors, cabin-cleaners, cart-drivers and wheelchair agents at the airport receive low wages and few benefits. She called upon Congress and airport commissioners to make sure such workers are protected financially during the pandemic.

"What we are asking for in response to the COVID-19 crisis is comprehensive health care coverage, paid sick and paid family medical leave, and then lay-off protections via pay back or wage replacements for airport workers,” Altamirano said.

Altamirano said most of the workers earn just $11 an hour. Eighty employees of one MSP contractor have already received layoff notices, she said.

— Euan Kerr | MPR News

Target: Sales of essentials skyrocket

Target says sales of food and other essential items have jumped because of COVID-19, but the retailer’s labor and other costs are way up, too.

So far this month, sales of food and beverage and so-called essentials are up more than 50 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Typically more profitable apparel and accessories sales are down by more than a fifth.

The Minneapolis retail giant says increased pay, cleaning and other costs related to the virus are expected to top $300 million, and that the net financial effects of the pandemic aren't yet clear.

— Martin Moylan | MPR News

Timberwolves’ Towns says his mother is in a coma due to coronavirus

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns says his mother is desperately ill after contracting COVID-19.

The 24-year-old, two-time NBA All-Star said in a social media post that his mother was in a medically induced coma as her condition had recently deteriorated.

In the video, he said his parents had fallen ill, but that they showed some signs of improvement.

Jacqueline Cruz is now on a ventilator, Towns said.

He pleaded with fans and others to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously and to practice social distancing to help slow the spread of the virus.

“This disease needs to not be taken lightly. Please protect your families, your loved ones, your friends, yourself. Practice social distancing. Please don’t be in places with a lot of people.”

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

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

State lawmakers express mixed reaction to Walz ‘stay-at-home’ order

In his latest response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz directed Minnesotans to significantly limit their movements for a two-week period that begins Friday night.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he shares the governor’s concerns about safety, but he has “grave concerns” about the order. Gazelka did not elaborate. But he noted “the consequences for the families of Minnesota when their jobs and businesses that provide their livelihood are lost.”

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the governor’s decision is difficult, but in the best interest of Minnesotans. She said additional efforts are needed to slow the spread of the virus.

Walz emergency orders have some questioning whether he has too much power

While Republicans have generally supported Walz’s moves to curb the coronavirus spread, several state GOP leaders questioned the DFL governor’s new state-home order Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that while he shared Walz’s concerns about health and safety, “I also have grave concerns about the governor’s statewide ‘stay-at-home’ order and the consequences for the families of Minnesota when their jobs and businesses that provide their livelihood are lost."

Legislature to meet again under COVID-19 restrictions: Minnesota lawmakers will reconvene Thursday to vote on a request from the governor for another $350 million for the state’s coronavirus response. “It’s critical for us to be able to manage this response,” said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans. “You look at the corrections system. If something were to happen and there was a disease outbreak in one of the correctional facilities that would cause a lot of uncertainty and extra costs and overtime costs. If you look at housing and homelessness issues are really critical now. If you look at food insecurity.”

Cook County tells second-home owners to stay away, for now: The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a travel advisory at its meeting in Grand Marais, Minn., requesting that seasonal or second homeowners stay home — for the time being. “Due to our very limited health care infrastructure, please do not visit us now,” the advisory reads. The advisory is not mandatory — and it’s not legally enforceable.

Asian Americans in Minnesota confront a COVID-19 backlash: Many Minnesotans of Asian descent say they're facing increased hostilities — from name-calling to denial of services, as COVID-19 spreads across the state. State officials say it’s too early to say whether there’s been an uptick in complaints, but say they’re busy investigating cases related to the backlash.

MPR News reporter Hannah Yang lives in rural Minnesota and has felt the sting of pandemic-fueled racism firsthand. She writes:During a recent grocery run, I was searching for a jar of tomato sauce when I overheard whispers that made me nearly drop to my knees: ‘Trump should send them back,’ I heard one man say, followed by, ‘She looks diseased.’”

The science of coronavirus: Researchers are hot on the trail of the new coronavirus. They’re looking for its weaknesses in hopes of stopping it from spreading and putting those who get COVID-19 in a better position to fight it. Kerri Miller and listeners talked with virologist Angela Rasmussen and infectious disease fellow Dr. Megan Culler Freeman this week about what we know about the virus; how it enters and affects our bodies; and what we have yet to learn.

Mass layoffs for MN science, children's museums amid coronavirus shutdown: 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.

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