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The daily coronavirus update: 29 more deaths; Walz announces plans to reopen outdoor dining, salons

The Department of Health also said Wednesday there have been 17,670 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 641 from Tuesday’s count.

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

For the foreseeable future, MinnPost will be providing daily updates on coronavirus in Minnesota, published following the press phone call with members of the Walz administration each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from May 20, 2020:

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17,670 confirmed cases; 777 deaths

Twenty-nine more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday, for a total of 777. 

Of the deaths announced were two people in their hundreds, seven people in their 90s, eight in their 80s, five in their 70s, five in their 60s, one in their 50s and one in their 40s.

The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests.

MDH also said Wednesday there have been 17,670 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 641 from Tuesday’s count. Because Minnesota is only now developing the capacity to test everybody with symptoms, the number of cases of the virus is assumed to be significantly higher. 

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Since the start of the outbreak, 2,308 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 550 are currently in the hospital, 212 in intensive care. Of the 17,670 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 12,227 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are believed to have recovered.

A total of 167,338 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

Walz announces plans to reopen outdoor dining, salons

Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that outdoor dining, salons, barber shops, campsites and outdoor recreation businesses can resume business with some restrictions starting June 1.

We’re going to keep this short because you can read all about these changes, and people’s reactions to them, in Walker Orenstein’s piece here. If you’re in a rush though, here are the Cliff Notes:

Bars and restaurants can serve food to patrons onsite as long as it’s outdoors at a maximum capacity of 50 diners. Reservations are required, tables must be 6 feet apart, staff must wear masks and customers are asked to when they are not eating. Parties are restricted to four, or six if they are family members.

Salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors may open at 25 percent of the capacity outlined in the fire code with restrictions and by appointment only.

Campgrounds, charter boats can also open with restrictions.

The administration also outlined which businesses will be allowed to open in the next phase of its loosening of restrictions.

A long way from finished

Despite some parts of life going back to some semblance of normal, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday that cases are expected to increase for some time. They are expected to peak in late July, but could see their apex anytime between late-June and mid-August.

“We’re a long way from finished here,” she said.

Malcolm said that Minnesota has seen five consecutive days of slower rates of case growth is good news, but it’s too soon to declare that a trend.

Still, Malcolm said, “The relative stability of the growth rate of the cases is one of the signs that tells us a measured approach to continue to open our economy makes sense.”

More social interaction, partly the result of loosened restrictions on retail and other sectors that began Monday, may drive up the number of cases in Minnesota, but the effects won’t be seen in the data for two to three weeks, because of COVID-19’s long incubation period, plus the time it takes people to get tested and get results.

Demand for tests lower than expected

Walz said Minnesota currently has the capacity to do more than 10,000 COVID-19 tests per day but hasn’t seen the equivalent demand; the state has done an average of 6,472 tests daily in the last week.

“We have been disappointed that there’s not been more demand incoming to the clinics and the sites that have been created,” Malcolm said. She said other states’ experiences suggest Minnesota will need to integrate more mobile testing into its strategy to bring tests to people who don’t have immediate access to health care.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/Pool
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm: “We’re a long way from finished here.”
Malcolm reiterated that anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested.

As far as the state’s strategy for more widespread testing in long-term care goes, Malcolm said the state had fully tested 39 facilities so far, with a total of more than 7,000 residents and staff. Thirty more are signed up to be tested next week. The department’s goal is to test workers and residents at facilities that have a positive case or two or more symptomatic people.

GOP senators accuse Walz of overstepping emergency powers

Thirty one of the 35 members of the state Senate majority GOP caucus sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison to say that they think the governor has exceeded his emergency powers by threatening criminal sanctions against businesses that violate stay-at-home orders.

The letter says the Senate has restrained itself in responding to concerns over the emergency declaration but that such restraint is “tenuous.”

“In light of this recent lawsuit and the looming June 12 special session, please understand that the previous restraint shown by the Senate to not exercise the authority granted under M.S. 12.31 to terminate the current peacetime emergency powers has become tenuous,” the letter states. It would take a vote of both the House and Senate to rescind the emergency declaration.

The senators based their complaint on what they say is a violation of emergency powers in creating criminal sanctions where there are no such penalties in state law. 

“Under Minnesota Statutes … the Legislature has the exclusive authority to define crimes and the range of sentences and punishments for their violation,” the letter states. “A willful violation of Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 12, and associated rules and orders, is clearly and specifically a misdemeanor under Minnesota Statutes …, unless a different penalty or punishment is specifically prescribed. Accordingly, a violation of an emergency powers order is a misdemeanor unless another statute provides a different penalty.

“Ultimately, this interpretation of executive authority is alarming because there would be no limitation to the severity of the punishment that Governor Walz or any other Governor acting under emergency powers authority could impose without any legislative action,” the senators state.

The letter acknowledges that Ellison’s legal action against a Stearns County restaurant owner who pledged to reopen despite the closure orders did not seek criminal sanctions “supposedly provided under an executive order.” And they noted that the state was readying new guidelines for restaurants and bars to reopen.

“However, the civil penalty sought by the executive branch under (the emergency powers law) sends a heavy-handed message to small businesses and workers who seek to safely reopen just like their big box competitors,” the letter stated. “We certainly hope this is not the message you intended to make and we stand ready to work with you on ways to safely reopen Minnesota.”

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