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The daily coronavirus update: 66 new confirmed cases; small business loans available

Four confirmed cases are in long-term care, assisted living and memory care units, but not more than one confirmed case in any one facility.

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

For the foreseeable future, MinnPost will be providing daily updates on coronavirus in Minnesota, published following the press phone call conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from March 23, 2020:

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66 new confirmed cases, 235 total, and a note on the numbers

The Minnesota Department of Health announced 66 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota Monday, for a total of 235.

Because of testing limitations, that number is likely a significant undercount. While MDH’s map shows a growing number of counties with confirmed cases, Minnesotans should assume it’s being transmitted across the state, officials have said.

Here are some things you should remember as we see the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota climb every day:

  1. We know these numbers will keep going up for the foreseeable future. That’s how viruses work. Social distancing is designed to slow the spread, it can’t stop it.
  2. Limitations on test capacity means the true number of cases is much larger than the number of confirmed cases.
  3. The map of confirmed cases by county probably more accurately represents the population than actual cases by county. (For example: of course Hennepin County has more cases than Renville County, there are more people there. That doesn’t mean it’s not spreading in Renville County). It could also reflect medical infrastructure (as in, who gets tested). We have been advised by the Minnesota Department of Health that COVID-19 is likely circulating across the state.
  4. Increased testing, as it becomes available (a good thing), could drive an increase in confirmed cases.

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Hospitalizations; cases in long-term care facilities

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday that 21 of the 235 total Minnesotans with confirmed cases had been hospitalized. 12 are currently hospitalized, five of whom are in intensive care.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Malcolm said there are four confirmed cases in long-term care, assisted living and memory care units, but not more than one confirmed case in any one facility, though in some, other residents have shown symptoms.

After COVID-19 ravaged elderly care facilities in Washington, Minnesota is working aggressively on infection control and testing all residents of the affected facilities here, Malcolm said.

Small business help on the way

Minnesota businesses are now eligible for low-interest loans from the federal Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program. But an executive order signed Monday also creates two state-funded programs for small businesses, independent contractors as well as retailers and restaurant owners.

Steve Grove, the commissioner  of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development said the first totals $30 million for small businesses — including restaurants — and independent contractors. Loans from $2,500 to $35,000 can be obtained with up to half being forgivable under certain conditions.

Another move Monday directs local governments to make loans available to retailers and service providers with $28 million already allocated to them. These revolving loan funds are the Minnesota Investment Fund program and the Minnesota Investment Fund Disaster program.

“We think this will be a bridge to get folks through the next few weeks,” Gov. Tim Walz said. His Monday briefing was done via conference call rather than in person because of his self-isolation after being exposed to a security detail officer who has tested positive.

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Three more executive orders

Aside from the small business order, the governor signed three other executive orders to curtail evictions and foreclosures for 90 days, limit elective surgeries by veterinarians, and order an inventory of privately held personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks and gowns as well as ventilators and other medical equipment. Anyone holding such equipment must stop using it except for health care or other essential services and report their inventory to the state.

Says the order: “Any Minnesota business, nonprofit, or non-hospital health care facility, whether veterinary, dental, construction, research, institution of higher learning, or other, in possession of PPE, ventilators, respirators, or anesthesia machines (including any consumable accessories to these devices) that are not required for the provision of critical health care services or essential services and were not produced by the organization for the purpose of sale, must undertake an inventory of such supplies no later than March 25, 2020.”

The state has the authority to confiscate such equipment but Walz said he thinks those who possess them will likely volunteer them to hospitals and other health settings.

On the eviction ban, Walz said people who can afford rent and mortgage payments should continue to make them but others who can’t shouldn’t be evicted.

“We can’t make this worse. We can’t have people on the streets,” Walz said. “It would not only be personally cruel it would be counterproductive.”

New budget request

Walz sent a letter to legislative leaders amending his supplemental budget request by $356 million.  The new money would provide emergency grants to child care centers; provide a $500 grant to those on the state’s  Family Investment Program, add money for food shelves and increase resources for Minnesotans struggling with homelessness. The budget would also create a COVID-19 Minnesota Fund that would give the state resources to “respond to the needs of Minnesotans in real time.”

Along with his March 12 budget request, the state’s projected surplus would fall to $811 million, down from $1.5 billion in February. Walz stressed that the number doesn’t take into account expected declines in state revenue from a COVID-induced recession.

No shelter-in-place yet

Walz said he is not yet ready to order a shelter in place for Minnesota residents whose job isn’t considered essential, despite orders now from Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan along with existing orders in Oregon, California, New York and Massachusetts. (For a look at what such an order might look like, here’s Michigan’s.)

“We’re trying to use the best data that we have,” Walz said. “There’s no total agreement around some of these decisions.”

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz
Walz said he wants to project and predict both the impacts on the spread of the virus and the impacts on the economy and people’s lives. “No one here in this administration is taking lightly the economic chaos that can come out of this. But those who say the cure is worse than the disease? That’s pretty hard for me to tell Lt. Gov. Flanagan that or anyone else who is going to lose someone in this. I don’t think it has to be that choice.”

And he said he wanted to make it clear that such a shut down wouldn’t last a few weeks but instead could be months if it is to have an effect on the virus.

“Between 40 to 80 percent of us will eventually get this, even if we shut the thing down now,” he said. “So the question is, how do we get social compliance so people can do this for a longer time period.” He has been in close contact with governors from neighboring states and said all are agonizing over the decision.

“It is certainly possible and probable that we are going to come to the same conclusion, but I am hearing people ask us to be as thoughtful as we can,” he said. “I’m saying now, at 2:45, we’re not prepared to do that but we very soon could be.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will sign an order Tuesday that will mean tighter social distancing measures in in our neighboring state. Evers is calling it “safer at home” instead of “shelter in place”: he will order all non-essential workplaces to close and ask people to stay home. Wisconsin has reported five COVID-19 deaths.

National Guard at the ready

Walz said he has already used National Guard logistic units to move personal protective equipment from Camp Ripley to the state Department of Health. He said he expects to use them for other tasks related to moving supplies and equipment.

President Donald Trump has activated the guard in three states — California, Washington and New York — under a federal provision that put them under the command of governors but with the federal government paying costs. That is the type of order that Walz, a former guardsman, says he prefers.

But Walz said he is being careful not to call up members of the guard who already work in essential services such as police and fire or health care.

Hitting close to home for Minnesota public officials

COVID-19 is starting to hit close to home for some of Minnesota’s top public officials: Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan’s brother, Ron, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, died over the weekend after coming down with COVID-19. Gov. Tim Walz is self-quarantining after a member of his security detail came down with the virus. MinnPost state government reporter Peter Callaghan has the story.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced Monday morning that her husband, John Bessler, is hospitalized with COVID-19. MinnPost Washington Correspondent Gabe Schneider has the story.

On MinnPost:

Around the web:

  • Two weeks? Feels like two years. Dana Ferguson at Forum with a timeline on how the coronavirus crisis has unfolded in Minnesota so far
  • Helpful factsheet from North Carolina State University on the risks, or lack thereof, of takeout in the time of COVID-19. (Only affirms my decision to pick up Kim’s Kitchen – have you had their fried rice?! — for dinner tonight. —Greta)
  • ATTN: Millennials; Gen-Z: I’m 26. Coronavirus sent me to the hospital, via the New York Times

MDH’s coronavirus website:

Hotline, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920