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Unemployment, shelter-in-place and testing capacity: What you need to know from the governor’s latest coronavirus update

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Gov. Tim Walz providing updates at a Wednesday news conference.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz held a press conference Wednesday updating the state’s latest efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a summary of what he had to say:

Unemployment fund in good shape

In the wake of Walz’s order to close businesses like restaurants and hair salons, state officials said they’re experiencing an unprecedented wave of people applying for unemployment insurance benefits. During this week last year, the state received 2,100 applicants. This week, about 50,000 have applied.

“Numbers are climbing really rapidly,” said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development. 

While Grove has consistently said Minnesota’s “healthy” $1.5 billion unemployment trust fund leaves the state in better shape than many others, DEED modeling found the uptick in applicants to the insurance program will quickly take a bite from the cache. Still, Grove said the federal government is quick to bail out states when trust funds evaporate.

The Legislature might need to convene sooner than April 14

Walz was asked if it is realistic to think the House and Senate can wait until mid-April to return from their recess. “No,” he said. “Candidly, operationally, I don’t know how to do this. I know there is frustration that the governor is taking action on things. I have to. I can’t wait. But no, I don’t think we can wait until the 14th.

“I have certain executive powers, but there are things we need the Legislature to do. We’re working this as we speak. More information will be put out. I have been in contact with the four leaders. There are things that we’re going to be asking for in the next 24-to-48 hours and we’re gonna have to figure out how that works.”

Said House Speaker Melissa Hortman: “We are working on draft legislation in a variety of areas to respond to COVID-19. We will return in session to provide assistance for Minnesotans where legislative action is needed. A very significant amount of work is going on. Because any action we take will require agreement by all four leaders, all four caucuses are working together in a way I have never seen before.”

Former Grand Princess passengers return to Minnesota

Walz said his administration worked with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to find a way to bring home the 32 Minnesotans who had been passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship.

The federal government chartered a flight from California, where the passengers had been quarantined, and Walz waived his earlier request to wait until tests confirmed about each passenger’s COVID-19 status. They arrived at 3:30 this morning and were met by Metro Transit vehicles, which delivered them to their homes where they will complete the quarantine period.

“It’s a much better situation than being on an airbase on a cot,” he said. “They’re back in their homes self-quarantined.” He said none is exhibiting symptoms. Another nine residents stayed in California by choice.

Testing capacity still lacking

Walz said he heard from other governors during a morning conference call that the lack of testing capacity is hampering the response. He said tests are important for individuals who are concerned about their own health but the impact on the broader response is vital. 

“It’s the data from testing that allows us to model where this is going to go. The response is based on that modeling.”

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said the federal government is quick to bail out states when trust funds evaporate.
South Korea, which is considered to have launched the strongest response, tested 274,000 people in a nation of 51 million. Italy, which is not an example to follow because of the extent of the outbreak there, has done 134,000 tests. The U.S. has done 25,000.

Because of that, he thinks there are far more cases in Minnesota than the current numbers report.

“We’re making the assumption that there are far more than 77 cases out there,” he said. At the current rate of positive tests, there could be another 100 cases among the 1,700 swabs that have been taken but not tested.

Shelter-in-place order? Not yet

On that conference call with other governors, Walz said Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York talked about the possibility of issuing a “shelter-in-place” order, which requires people to stay in their homes and not leave save for designated exceptions. 

“I’m trying to base it on the best data that we have with a clear understanding that we could have used more in the testing,” he said. “As the early warning signs come in, especially from the health care providers, that’s where you need to think of all things. I don’t want to alarm Minnesotans, but if there’s anything that I can tell you, is as you are watching this unfold in New York which is about eight days ahead of us and in Seattle and San Francisco, steps that are being taken there are best practices, those are all potential things.

“Last Friday we didn’t think there’d be a need to close schools. Last Saturday we didn’t think there’d be a need to close bars. That’s the speed of this.”

National Guard at the ready

“They are prepared,” said Walz of the Minnesota National Guard, which could potentially be used to deliver food and supplies to people during the crisis, or help with food banks. “They’re ready to go. It’s 13,000 Minnesotans who are well trained, many of them who have actually done this in combat situations and have delivered supplies that way. They know what they’re doing.” 

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Peter Zeftel on 03/19/2020 - 12:48 am.

    How about a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions? The thousands of people who have been or will be laid off are quickly run out of money for bills.

    If you qualify for unemployment, you typically get paid about half your working income. How are those staying home with their school age children going to pay for food and rent or mortgage payments.

    Moratoriums have already passed in New York, Kentucky, and Massachusetts. Let’s do it here!

  2. Submitted by Robert Ahles on 03/19/2020 - 10:35 am.

    Last night on KSTP News an expert stated that a person should stay home for a least 7 days if Corona-19 is suspected before going to a hospital or emergency room.

    However, a CNN news clip yesterday reported that those that die from the Corona-19 virus are usually dying within 8 days of the first symptons. The guidance on KSTP last evening almost seems like a death sentence for those seriously ill.

    My wife and I are both in our 70s and are isolating at home. We would really appreciate clarification on staying at home for 7 days before seeking help at a hospital. Thank you.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/19/2020 - 10:50 am.

      going to the doctor to get tested only exposes the medical staff and other patients to what you’ve got or exposes you to what they have.

      If you feel sick, stay home and treat those symptoms. If they get bad, call your doctor first and get his/her recommendation. They should be able to set up something so you aren’t exposed to others if you need to go in.

      Ignore everything on CNN. Find more reliable sources.

      • Submitted by Robert Ahles on 03/19/2020 - 11:38 am.

        If you wait for 7 days as the guidance suggests it may be way too late!

        • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/19/2020 - 01:57 pm.

          By day 7 you’ll know if your symptoms require a doctor or not. I think there’s some misinformation between these 2 reports. IF you have it and IF you show any symptoms you will see/feel them well before it’s bad enough to require hospitalization. 94% of those who get the virus don’t require hospitalization so your odds are pretty good of beating it by staying home and recovering on your own.

      • Submitted by Robert Ahles on 03/19/2020 - 12:06 pm.

        I believe that CNN is more reliable and factual than the CDC or the Trump Administration.

  3. Submitted by Robert Ahles on 03/19/2020 - 10:46 am.

    On CNN News yesterday it was reported that the Corona-19 virus can live in the air for at least 3 hours. I had previously heard that the sores drop to the floor or ground very quickly.

    If the virus can live in the air for 3 hours why is the public told not to wear masks if not infected. Many people do have masks but are told not to wear them in public places. You see many people in stores and other public places and they are not wearing masks.

    From the CNN report it would appear you can contract the virus from just breathing in the air. I know that masks should be reserved for the health care heroes but shouldn’t the public be warned about the air they breathe?

    • Submitted by Robert Ahles on 03/19/2020 - 05:06 pm.

      I recall watching news casts from China in January and February and just about everyone in public places were wearing masks. Maybe we can learn a lot from the Chinese.

  4. Submitted by kaimay terry on 03/19/2020 - 12:20 pm.

    Without adequate testing it will be like blind leading the blind ending up using draconian lock down measures. POTUS must swallow his “ made in America” pride get help from SKorea, yes China for the test kits and other desperately needed medical supplies made in China. Months ago CDC was tasked to produce a test kit but it was faulty. By the way CDC budget been cut steadily by POTUS. Now Thermo Fisher will have test kits ready by end of April.
    So we have a 2020 defense budget to be over 700 billion plus —2 billion per day to be used to make products resulting in death and destruction. Go figure
    Writer alum of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/19/2020 - 03:17 pm.

      First off, Trump isn’t refusing anything. The FDA is the one that has to approve any test kits. And reports are that many from other nations have high false negative rates. Secondly, the lack of test kits here was due to an Obama Admin rule that required private companies to register with the FDA first then have to submit to the FDA for approval. Trump removed that regulation so now the Mayo and others are making tests. Third, CDC budget cuts have nothing to do with this. They have plenty of staff to deal with things as is. Trump also got regs removed to allow many private labs to run the tests instead of just the CDC (another Obama Admin regulation).

      • Submitted by lisa miller on 03/19/2020 - 05:49 pm.

        Dude, Trump nixed the pandemic office.

      • Submitted by kaimay terry on 03/19/2020 - 06:14 pm.

        Sorry misinformation. Roche is the other company frantically making test kits. SKorea tested Millions in a short period of time succeeding in isolating hot spots for more restrictions. There may be some false positives ,but very successful. Why would you believe automatically kits made my other countries are unreliable? You must know by now POTUS did remove tariff from desperately needed Chinese made medical supplies to be imported to our country. So the “ evil empire” logic has holes?!

  5. Submitted by Robert Ahles on 03/19/2020 - 05:09 pm.

    Today China reported now new cases over the last 24 hours.

  6. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/23/2020 - 10:12 pm.

    Walz’s failure to issue the shelter in place order just delays the inevitable.

    Do it sooner rather than later. The longer we try to keep a half ass economy in place the longer it will take to put the virus behind us and try to get started on the recovery to normal.

    The Trump school of “The cure is worse than the problem” does not comprehend that the problem is death. Trump’s total lack of empathy enables him to just shrug his shoulders at the idea of few hundred thousand dead bodies.

  7. Submitted by Tarrance Sullivan on 03/24/2020 - 09:00 pm.

    “Shelter in place” is an inaccurate phrase for orders requiring people to stay home. Shelter in place means confining oneself to a windowless room or area wherever one is instead of evacuating a building due to immediate danger.

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