ST. PAUL — State health officials on Friday, April 10, are set to detail the modeling they've used to make decisions around social and travel restrictions, including a one-month extension of a stay at home order, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in Minnesota.
Department of Health and University of Minnesota School of Public Health scientists are set to outline the model that projects how quickly COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, could spread in the state under different constraints and how many deaths and hospitalizations are likely to occur in each scenario.
The effort to highlight and explain the projections come after Gov. Tim Walz and top health advisors have faced scrutiny from Minnesotans frustrated about the shuttering of businesses, restaurants, bars, schools and places of amusement projected to run through May 4.
One of the skeptics, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Thursday objected to the state's projections that between 3,000 and 5,000 Minnesotans could require hospitalization at the disease's peak in the state and said Walz's move to extend the stay at home order was a unilateral decision.
"We are ready for the surge now. Why shut MN business down for a NY sized surge?" Gazelka wrote in a tweet. And in a prior tweet, he said, "We have to get on with our lives."
The comments came as the death toll from the illness ticked up by 11 on Thursday to 50 in total and 88 more Minnesotans tested positive for COVID-19. The Minnesota Department of Health reported a total of 1,242 Minnesotans had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. That number comes from 32,294 tested in the state, but the positives likely undercount the number of cases in Minnesota, experts say, because there isn't enough testing to get a complete picture.
Also on Thursday, the number of Minnesotans seeking unemployment insurance since the pandemic took hold in the state climbed to 385,318. And Republican lawmakers concerned about restarting the state's economy said Walz should start rolling back restrictions to allow Minnesotans to get back to work.
The governor, meanwhile, said the stay at home order is needed to buy state officials extra time to build up hospital beds, personal protective equipment and tests that can detect antibodies of those who've already had COVID-19. State models project that with current constraints, COVID-19 cases could peak in July. Minnesota hospitals have sided with Walz in saying they need to build up resources before a projected peak in cases would flood their facilities.
Walz told reporters that he too was frustrated by the order and the strain it has put on the state's economy, but he couldn't justify breaking with the guidance of health officials in the state.
"You can’t get frustrated, go on a hunch and throw caution to the wind and pretend like our neighbors’ lives are somehow disposable,” Walz said. “If they believe the Mayo Clinic is wrong, if they believe all nine of the health care associations are wrong, if they believe that the CDC is wrong, if they believe that the president’s guidance from the administration is wrong and if they believe 42 other states are wrong, then I value their opinion to say so, but we can’t go on a hunch.
“And I hope I am as wrong as can be about the needs on those beds, but all of the data shows me I cannot risk that at this time."
Beyond the May 4 end date for the stay at home order, Walz and Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state would consider alternatives that provided Minnesotans more flexibility but still included social distancing and continued hand hygiene to prevent the disease's spread. Vulnerable individuals would likely remain in some level of isolation.
"We’ve got to find a place that works long-term and is not just shelter in place alone," Walz said. "We're trying to figure out how to transition to that bridge."
Under the new stay at home order, the list of jobs deemed "essential" grew to include landscaping, companies helping stock agricultural equipment and plants as well as arts and crafts supplies used to make surgical masks and business owners checking on their facilities or managing supplies shipped in while they're shuttered.
Of the patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Minnesota, 675 have recovered and no longer need to be isolated, 145 are in the hospital and 63 are in intensive care. St. Louis County on Thursday reported its first death due to the illness and additional deaths were reported in Hennepin, Ramsey and Winona counties. Those who died were older adults, Malcolm said.
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.
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