Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday ordered Minnesotans to stay home for two weeks except for essential activities and outdoor exercise starting Friday night at midnight.
Walz is following the lead of other governors who have issued similar orders in states like Illinois, New York and Wisconsin. He used Facebook Live to walk through the underlying prognostications showing the risk of doing nothing.
In his statewide address, Walz said state health officials are attempting to buy time to build Minnesota’s intensive-care capacity. About 5% of people who contract COVID-19 will require intensive care, according to projections by state health officials. The state currently has only 235 intensive-care beds, far short of what the state would need should the outbreak continue.
“The attempt here is to strike the proper balance of making sure our economy can function, we protect the most vulnerable, we slow the rate to buy us time and build out our capacity to deal with this,” Walz said during his announcement.
Minnesotans would still be allowed to leave their homes for a number of activities, including grocery shopping, getting gasoline, picking up prescriptions from pharmacies, caring for others and outdoor activities.
Certain workers would be exempt from the order, including healthcare and public-health employees, law enforcement personnel, childcare workers, news media, and key manufacturing and infrastructure workers.
“It’s an unprecedented challenge for us,” he said. “Minnesotans have risen to the occasion. We’ve slowed it, but again, make no mistake — slowing it is not going to stop it.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, pushed back on the latest order by Walz, just a few days after he criticized a previous move by the governor to expand unemployment insurance to include those laid off because of the pandemic.
“I share the governor’s concerns about the safety and well-being of all Minnesotans,” he said in a statement. 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.”
The data Walz shared points to a grim future. If the state does nothing, Minnesota’s’s death toll from coronavirus could reach 74,000. “Doing nothing is not an option,” Walz stressed in his presentation.
Walz’s 25-minute address took on the air of lecture, complete with charts and forecasts. Under one scenario — the do-nothing option — the state would reach its peak epidemic in nine weeks and reach its peak ICU capacity in six weeks.
Under the second scenario, which calls for “significant” mitigation, the state would reach its peak epidemic in 14 weeks and its peak ICU capacity in 11 weeks.
DFL lawmakers are standing by Walz. which will be voted on by the state’s constitutional officers later on Wednesday.
“The decision made by Governor Walz today is difficult, but in the best interest of Minnesotans,” Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement. “Minnesotans have done an excellent job social distancing, but we need to keep fighting to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed.”
Gazelka’s DFL counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Susan Kent of Woodbury, issued a statement in support of Walz. “The decision by the Governor to order a Stay at Home order for Minnesotans is the right one,” she said.
Minnesota health officials are racing to expand the state’s capacity for intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections grows. The state’s National Guard has been activated and officials are also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look at stadiums and other large public places that could accommodate makeshift hospitals while they work to stockpile ventilators and personal protection equipment for health care workers.
State officials announced an uptick in lab-confirmed cases on Wednesday, which now stand at 287, with 26 people currently hospitalized and one death.
On Monday, Walz suspended evictions and foreclosures across the state during the peacetime emergency, so that people would not be forced out of their homes.
Legislative leaders are preparing to meet for a one-day session on Thursday to pass a COVID-19 emergency response package. Legislators have been working by phone to craft bills intended to ease the economic pain of the sudden economic slowdown.
This is a developing story.