Gov. Tim Walz is telling Minnesotans to stay inside as part of the state’s response to the novel coronavirus, though he is using the term “stay at home” rather than “shelter in place” to describe the executive order he signed Wednesday.
The distinction is more than semantic. In a speech that was live-streamed throughout the state, Walz said his order is less stringent than those some other states have imposed. The purpose of the order is to further slow down infection rates for COVID-19 and give the state time to build up testing and hospital capacity, and expand the supply of medical resources.
The order will begin at 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 27, and end at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 10. It asks for residents to stay home when at all possible. Exempted from the stay-at-home order are a set of essential workers in health care, law enforcement, grocery stores, drug stores and gas stations, as well as those that maintain infrastructure such as telecommunications, electricity, water and sewer. The state Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates 78 percent of state jobs will be exempt from the order.
The order also allows people to shop for food and supplies and to get outside for exercise as long as it is done in accordance with social distancing rules.
“It doesn’t mean you don’t step out of your house,” Walz said. “This does not mean that you can’t do some of the things that keep life functioning on. But it does mean that we’re getting more restrictive.”
Walz also extended two of the executive orders he first signed shortly after his declaration of a state of emergency last week. His orders closing schools and shuttering bars, restaurants and other public gathering places will be extended at least until May 4 and May 1, respectively.
“The severe impact is going to be there,” he said. “I’m asking for your patience, your cooperation and your understanding.”
Walz said that the state and federal governments are doing all they can to lessen the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic, including providing unemployment insurance for up to 39 weeks, child care assistance and loans for businesses.
He said the point of those programs is to let people survive the closures and be ready to return to work and activities later. “This day will come when we’re done with this,” he said. “It will come when we will stand back up. We need to make sure that all the hard work that you put in, the sacrifice allows you to start back up again and benefit from all that,” Walz said.
While DFL elected officials supported the order, the highest ranking GOP elected official was less enthusiastic. “I share the governor’s concerns about the safety and well-being of all Minnesotans,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. “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.”
‘A human issue … with mathematics driving it’
Walz used modeling done by the University of Minnesota to explain his decision, and to show the consequences of different responses by the government. Under a no-mitigation situation, the model projects Minnesota would reach peak epidemic in about nine weeks (late-May), with ICUs reaching capacity in early May.
Minnesotans have already reduced contact by 50 percent with social distancing measures. Under the conditions he announced today, the model projects an 80 percent reduction in person-to-person contacts. This would put off the peak of the epidemic until early July, and ICUs would reach capacity around the second week of June.
“This is a human issue with mathematics driving it,” he said. “If we just let this thing run its course and did nothing, upwards of 74,000 Minnesotans could be killed by this.” Walz said.
While the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are most susceptible to COVID-19, Walz said the pandemic is starting to affect younger people.
“The place we cannot get to is when someone can’t get that ICU care, (and) we see the death rates skyrocket,” he said. He projected that with time, the state could grow its number of ICU beds from the current 235 to 1,000.
“Minnesota is as well prepared as any state to handle this,” Walz said, citing the health care system, medical device makers and nonprofits providing safety-net services.
“So Minnesotans, we are in this together,” he concluded. “I’m asking you to buckle it up for two more weeks here. I’m asking our manufacturers to step it up and provide for the ICU units. We’ll draw on all the resources we have and make sure we get through this together.”