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The daily coronavirus update: 29 new cases; Walz wants big testing boost before opening the economy

The state announced no new deaths on Monday.

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) with Gov. Tim Walz and administration officials each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from April 13, 2020:

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1,650 confirmed cases; 70 deaths

An additional 29 Minnesotans tested positive for COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday, for a total of 1,650 to-date. No additional deaths were reported Monday, meaning the total stood at 70 from Sunday.

Over the weekend, MDH announced the number of cases for a slightly longer period of time between Friday and Saturday — leading to a larger number of cases reported Sunday and fewer reported Monday.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Since the start of the outbreak, 361 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 157 are currently in the hospital, with 74 in intensive care. Of Minnesota’s more than 1,600 confirmed cases, 842 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

More information on cases can be found here.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said MDH has been fielding questions about whether health care providers should allow personal care attendants to attend appointments with clients.

“We encourage health care organizations to allow home care staff and family caregivers to attend appointments with people who have disabilities or chronic conditions,” she said. While CDC and MDH guidance is to limit visitors in health care settings, that should not include caregivers.

Walz extends peacetime emergency order

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Monday that tacks on 30 more days to the peacetime emergency he declared March 13 (yes, one month ago), which would bring the order’s expiration to May 13. Read the original order here and the new one here.

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An early state budget projection; executive branch hiring freeze and Cabinet pay cuts

Commissioner Myron Frans
Commissioner Myron Frans
Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said his department will provide a a state budget projection based on the latest economic and budget indicators in early May this year. Normally, the state wouldn’t get another budget projection until November, but Frans says it’s important to know how COVID-19 is affecting the state’s budget so it can be adjusted accordingly. By then, Frans said, Minnesota should have received some of federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Frans announced a hiring freeze on all executive branch jobs in Minnesota. Such jobs can’t be filled when they’re vacant, and no new executive branch jobs can be created during the freeze unless they’re related to COVID-19 response. Contractors may not be used to get around the freeze.

The freeze does not prohibit the reassignment or redeployment of employees or stop hiring for vacancies that are required to be filled by law.

Frans also said Walz and his Cabinet would take 10 percent pay cuts for the rest of the year.

Walz: Opening the economy requires testing, isolating

Many questions on Monday’s press call centered around when Minnesota would open back up for business.

Walz said last week he’s directed commissioners to start working on plans to reopen businesses that can safely reopen. When it comes to a more broad reopening of the economy, Walz said more robust testing that can enable contact tracing and isolation of people with COVID-19 are needed.

Walz said Minnesota has tested about 40,000 people since the COVID-19 outbreak started here, but the state needs t0 be able to test 40,000 people per week, or more.

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz
“Those who keep asking ‘what’s the plan to reopen?’ the plan to reopen is very, very clear. Test, trace, isolate, open back up, and continue this until we get a vaccine,” he said.

While Minnesota does not currently have the capacity to test enough people, the extension of the stay-at-home order is designed to help build that capacity up, he said.

Is it realistic to see all or most businesses open by the end of the stay-at-home order — currently May 4?

While Minnesota has seen progress, it’s too early to say, Walz said. But, he said, without better testing, more situations like what happened at the Smithfield ham processing plant in South Dakota, which shut down after widespread infection, will arise.

“Because 60 people were sick, they didn’t control it, you’ve got 3,700 people and 5 percent of the pork production in the country out of commission,” Walz said. “That is not opening the economy. Opening the economy means sustainable.”

Unemployment update

Minnesota has now seen 428,203 applications for unemployment since March 16, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said Monday.

Free rides for health care facility workers

Metro Mobility, a service the Metropolitan Council typically provides to those who are unable to use regular public transit, is now offering free rides to and from work for anyone who works in health care facilities.

Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle said beginning Monday that an excess capacity due to a drop in demand for Metro Mobility services makes this possible. Metro Mobility has been delivering groceries to people who typically use the service.

More details can be found here.

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Takeaway wine and beer

On Monday, Minnesota lawmakers and restaurateurs held a press conference urging Walz allow restaurants to sell takeaway wine and beer to customers.

Restaurant owners said alcohol makes up between 30 percent and 45 percent of sales, and being able to sell them would help keep them afloat while their dining rooms are closed. More on that from the Star Tribune’s Briana Bierschbach here.

Walz said on the press call Monday he supports the proposal, and would sign legislation allowing it if the legislature passed it while in session Tuesday. He said he prefers that route over an executive order some have suggested would be easier.

“We think there could be some challenges on the executive order if it’s not tied directly to the health pandemic,” he said.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

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