Walz hints at targeted restrictions to curb COVID-19 spread

Gov. Tim Walz put back on his face mask
Gov. Tim Walz puts back on his face mask at the conclusion of a press conference on July 30. Walz says he plans to announce new restrictions that target active spreaders of COVID-19 in an effort to bring the coronavirus under control.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP file

Updated: 3:26 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that he plans to announce new restrictions that target active spreaders of COVID-19 in an effort to bring the coronavirus under control as cases have surged to dangerous levels in recent weeks.

The governor plans to unveil at least some of his restrictions on Tuesday, hinting that they would be more “surgically, much more aggressively” targeted than the 51-day stay-at-home order from the spring. Walz said the shutdown order which he imposed earlier this year was necessary, but was a “blunt instrument.”

Walz appeared at the Minneapolis Convention Center Monday after the state registered nearly 14,000 new cases over the past three days. The convention center is the site of the state’s latest saliva testing facility.

The governor said he’s looking at data, which show people between 18 and 35 who are infected but asymptomatic are helping push the spread of the virus to other parts of the population. Health officials are studying how members of this cohort may be contracting and spreading the virus in places like bars and restaurants, he added.

"The infection rates increase after a set time in the evening,” he said. “That before 10 o'clock, we seem to see — that's at least what we're extrapolating from some of the data."

Walz didn’t say specifically that he’ll make bars and restaurants close early but he’s already restricted the number of patrons these businesses can allow inside their buildings. Bars and restaurants have been linked to 117 COVID-19 clusters, resulting in 2,400 individual cases.

Liz Rammer, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, a business association for lodging, restaurants, resorts and campgrounds, said Monday afternoon that shutting down bars and restaurants “would only serve to push more people to home gatherings where the data shows increased case spread.”

“The state has repeatedly told us they do not intend to shut down restaurants and bars, and we have not been told any different today,” Rammer said. “We would hope that any targeted restrictions being contemplated would take into account that restaurants and bars are affiliated with only 2 percent of the cases, and not unfairly single out these businesses.”

Walz’s announcement came as Minnesota doctors called on the governor to issue new coronavirus restrictions in the state. More than 400 health care workers, represented by eight organizations around the state, signed a letter asking Walz to issue new restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and other nonessential services while preserving access to schools.

As of Monday, more than 1,000 Minnesotans are in the hospital with COVID-19 — a record for the state.

Walz’s new plans also include mobile device tracking that would alert people when they have been exposed to the virus, the Star Tribune reported.

“At this point in time, we’ve learned we can do retail, we can do education, some of it in person, if we’re able to test, contain and contact trace those folks to get [their infections] isolated,” he said.

Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan also said Monday that the state is adding more than a dozen free COVID-19 testing sites around the state over the next two weeks, including 10 in armories around the state and several locations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Testing at the sites will be free and available to anyone, whether symptomatic or not.

“Over the last week, Minnesotans saw our COVID-19 positivity rate climb higher than ever before. We have entered a dangerous phase of this pandemic, and our testing strategy is key to controlling the spread,” Walz said in a statement. “So many people are spreading the virus before they know they have it ... today’s announcement brings us closer to getting the virus under control.”

Health officials say increased testing is needed to help people find out if they have COVID-19 and to help the department track, trace and find asymptomatic people to prevent more spreading.

“The rate of case growth we are seeing is very concerning. Ultimately, our goal is to get out there, do as much testing as we can — with case investigation, contact tracing, and the necessary isolation — to stop this disease from spreading,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Tom Weaver is one person who took a saliva test. He told KSTP-TV that it was quick and easy.

“It’s just a peace of mind kind of thing,” Weaver said. “You can go about your life letting people know, that way everybody is in the know, the best information is available, and they can make decisions appropriately."

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 3,930 new cases on Monday, lower than the single-day record of 5,924 set just a day earlier. The update lifted the total number of cases in Minnesota to 184,788 since the start of the pandemic.

Health officials confirmed additional 19 deaths Monday, for a total number of 2,675 fatalities.

Walz said he is grateful for the partnerships that made the expanded testing possible.

“We need all Minnesotans to come together and remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 as we prepare for a long winter ahead," he said.

MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this story.

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