ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Friday, March 20, said he's weighing a shelter-in-place order like governors in California, Illinois and New York had instituted but said he wasn't ready yet to deliver that order.
The announcement comes as the number of positive coronavirus cases in the state saw it's largest one-day increase Friday, March 20, hitting 115 total in 22 counties. The news of the spread comes two weeks after the state announced its first positive case and days after state officials took actions to limit the potential spread in schools, restaurants, bars and other public spaces.
While the state doesn't have clear-cut metrics for when it would issue a shelter-in-place order like other states have done in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walz and state health officials said they are using the experience of other countries and states that have weathered the crisis to determine when the move might be appropriate.
“It certainly needs to be predicated on the best science, some of it is going to be extrapolating from what’s happened in other states to determine if that’s the time,” Walz said.
State health officials said they anticipated the illness had spread across much of the state through community transmission and were taking steps to stockpile protective equipment and medical devices to anticipate additional hospitalizations in the state. As of Friday, eight people had been hospitalized in the state and two remained in intensive care.
The governor on Friday also announced a series of actions, executive orders and public-private partnerships aimed at preparing to address the outbreak.
Ban on price-gouging
Walz on Friday signed executive orders prohibiting price-gouging, a practice that had not yet been formally outlawed, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning Saturday, March 21, at 5 p.m., those found charging "unconscionably excessive" rates for essential items like toilet paper would face fines and jail time. The governor has previously called on Minnesotans not to hoard goods and to support Minnesotans in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're going to take a look to make sure it's not happening here," Walz told reporters at the Capitol complex, noting hand sanitizer had begun selling for $60 a bottle. Attorney General Keith Ellison said he received 150 complaints of price gouging on Thursday alone.
To prepare for the possible increase in traffic at Minnesota hospitals, Walz said the state was activating Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps. to bring retired medical officials back into the field if needed. And in the face of potential shortages of protective equipment and ventilators, the state is beginning to keep an inventory of critical medical gear.
“We want to know exactly when a health system or a hospital is going to run out,” Walz said. “We’re getting a much better picture of where we’re at.”
Health officials had requested supplies from the federal stockpile and began receiving some of that on Friday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. Walz said the state was considering ways Minnesota's medical device companies and other companies stepping in to volunteer could make additional COVID-19 tests and protective equipment in the short term.
More counties report cases
Reports of positive cases were reported in 22 counties, including the first reported in Chisago and Fillmore counties. And they were picked up among 3,856 total tests processed in the state, officials said. Two of those individuals were in intensive care units, Walz said.
Eight who have been diagnosed have been hospitalized so far, Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann. And several are recovering from COVID-19. The first cases were reported in Chisago and Fillmore counties, Ehresmann said, and additional cases were found in Hennepin, Ramsey, Olmsted, Martin, Scott and Rice counties.
Those affected by the virus range from 17 to 94. And while the illness hasn't been tracked across the state, it is likely to be present beyond where it has been detected, Ehresmann said.
"We have evidence of community transmission in Minnesota, this means we have evidence that COVID-19 is circulating in all our communities," Ehresmann said. "If people who are sick continue to go to work and go out in public and spending time with others, they are undermining all that we in the community are trying to accomplish."
Grocers eligible for supports, care providers receive waivers
Grocery workers would also be added to tier 2 emergency responders, Walz said, allowing them to benefit from child care and additional services, including at YMCA centers around the state.
"This is a committed industry that folks are on the front line making sure none of us have to run and rush for products, they are restocking," Walz said.
Those individuals along with educators, grocery store workers, utility workers, essential state and local government staff, and other emergency responders would be eligible for new child care offerings at YMCA centers around the state beginning Monday. Through a partnership with the state, YMCA said it would provide distance learning and care for elementary-aged children of tier 2 emergency workers at 38 centers around the state. The centers will offer care for kids older than 5 beginning Monday, March 23 between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for emergency workers including.
The governor said he would aim to prioritize funding for child care providers working in schools and in centers who were watching children during the pandemic, some without timely compensation.
Walz also signed executive orders granting the Department of Human Services the authority to waive certain regulations for providers that work with children, individuals with disabilities, older adults and those with mental illnesses to ensure those groups continue to receive care as other restrictions take effect. And he granted DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead the authority to work with the federal government to change requirements for the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare.
More than 100 health and care provider groups earlier this week called on the Minnesota Legislature to waive requirements on providers so they wouldn't have to close or skip services during the outbreak.
And the governor and MNSure, Minnesota's health insurance exchange, announced the exchange would open for a 30-day special enrollment period running March 23 through April 21 to allow those who've lost insurance through an employer or don't have coverage to apply.
The CDC COVID-19 symptom checklist is here.
MDH COVID-19 hotline: (651) 201-3920.
Business impacts hotline: (651) 297-1304 or (800) 657-3504.
School and childcare hotline: (651) 297-1304 or (800) 657-3504.
MDH COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.
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