Man in mask
A man walks down Grand Avenue in St. Paul wearing a mask on Sunday. Minnesota had its first confirmed coronavirus-related death over the weekend and five patients were hospitalized in intensive care as of Sunday as COVID-19 continues to spread. (Evan Frost/MPR News file)

st on COVID-19 in MN: Walz orders halt eviction, help small businesses

MPR News StaffSt. PaulMarch 23, 2020 5:25 a.m.

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MPR News' Brian Bakst reports: Shelter-in-place order could come Monday

A man in a mask walks past people on the street.

A man walks down Grand Avenue in St. Paul wearing a mask on Sunday. Minnesota had its first confirmed coronavirus-related death over the weekend and five patients were hospitalized in intensive care as of Sunday as COVID-19 continues to spread. Evan Frost | MPR News file

DevelopmentsFrom around the state

Top headlinesFrom MPR News

COVID-19Tracking cases in Minnesota

Updated: 2:22 p.m. | Posted: 5:25 a.m.

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday issued orders halting evictions and establishing emergency loans for small businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minnesota has extended the state income tax deadline to July 15 with no penalty or interest, Walz said, and told reporters his revised budget request seeks an additional $356 million for coronavirus response.

The governor also halted elective veterinary services to preserve personal protective equipment (PPEs) and activated the National Guard to disperse those supplies from Camp Ripley. State officials are developing a centralized system to manage Minnesota’s stock of PPEs, said Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management director.

Earlier Monday, the governor announced he’s working at home as a precaution after learning that a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19. The governor said he has not shown any symptoms — nor has he taken a test — but plans to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Separately, health officials said the number of positive tests in Minnesota had reached 235, up from 169 on Sunday. Sherburne County said it confirmed its first case, a 33-year-old infected through community spread. He is in isolation. One person has died from the disease in Minnesota.

Walz is holding back on telling residents to shelter-in-place. He has been hesitant to declare such an order until there is clear direction to people and affected entities about how to adjust.

Still, officials pleaded with Minnesotans to stay home whenever possible, limit contact with others and wash their hands often.

"We should assume that [COVID-19 is] in all of our communities," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters.

Also on Monday came news that the disease had directly touched the families of two of Minnesota’s most prominent politicians. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a late Sunday night social media post that her brother died in Tennessee from COVID-19, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said her husband is now hospitalized in Virginia with the coronavirus.

Shelter in placeWhat would it look like in Minnesota?

Minnesota officials over the weekend announced the state’s first confirmed coronavirus-related death, and five patients were hospitalized in intensive care as of Monday as COVID-19 continued spreading among communities across the state.

“I think the bottom line is that there is a lot of COVID-19 circulating in Minnesota and that's why it's so important that people take the community mitigation measures seriously,” Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious diseases at the Health Department, said Saturday.

In addition to the continued pleas for people to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible, Ehresmann noted two key issues in a media briefing Sunday:

Because many dental offices are closed, she said emergency rooms across the state are seeing more people coming in with dental emergencies. She called on Minnesota residents to reach out to their dentist in those cases, so they don’t take up space in ERs. She also asked dentists to make accommodations to provide emergency care.

Ehresmann said there is a “desperate need” for blood donations in Minnesota, with many of the usual donation options (workplace blood drives, etc.) no longer available. She said donating blood is safe, and blood banks have taken steps to ensure social distancing.

A concerning turn in the outbreak: COVID-19 is showing up in long-term care facilities and among health workers, who account for about 1 in 5 confirmed infections.

The state Health Department said at least one COVID-19 is from an assisted living situation, where there can be a high population of elderly and potentially vulnerable residents. They did not identify the facility.

Ehresmann said the coronavirus may also be moving through the health care system.

"We have seen some transmission in the health care setting, but the majority were based on travel,” she said. “We have 34 situations in which health care workers have been infected."


Flanagan says her brother has died after getting coronavirus

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said her brother Ron has died after contracting COVID-19.

In an Instagram post late Sunday Flanagan said her brother, who lived in Tennessee, received a cancer diagnosis some weeks ago. After getting COVID-19, he was placed on a ventilator and a medically induced coma.

Flanagan said her brother's death underlines the importance of people staying home. In the post she wrote "please consider the possibility that you are carrying the virus and don't know it, and then you walk by the next Ron, my big brother, in public."

— Euan Kerr | MPR News

Klobuchar’s husband hospitalized with coronavirus

Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar acknowledged in a Monday social media post that her husband John has the coronavirus.

“He kept having a temperature and a bad, bad cough and when he started coughing up blood he got a test and a chest X-ray and they checked him into a hospital in Virginia because of a variety of things including very low oxygen levels which haven’t really improved,” she wrote. “He now has pneumonia and is on oxygen but not a ventilator.

Klobuchar said because she and John have been in different locations the past two weeks, “I am outside the 14-day period for getting sick, my doctor has advised me to not get a test. As everyone is aware, there are test shortages for people who need them everywhere and I don’t qualify to get one under any standard.”

— MPR News Staff

Fargo-Moorhead buses going fare-free

Public transit officials in Moorhead and Fargo are taking measures to keep buses running safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fargo, N.D., Assistant Transit Director Matthew Peterson said all fares will be suspended starting Monday to limit interaction between riders and drivers, and riders are being encouraged to use the back door on buses.

"If passengers board through the back door and kind of spread themselves out on the bus, then we can keep the service running as long as possible so people are able to get to those essential services such as grocery stores or medical appointments," he said.

Peterson said ridership is down more than 50 percent in Fargo-Moorhead in the past week, but he said many of those still riding the bus need the service to get to essential jobs in the community.

The goal is to keep all bus routes safely running as long as possible. Peterson said they monitor directives from Minnesota and North Dakota state officials.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

New testing site ramping up in Rochester

Health care providers in Rochester, Minn., are trying out a new, large-scale testing site for COVID-19.

Olmsted County Public Health, Olmsted Medical Center and Mayo Clinic collected a limited number of specimens over the weekend for testing, at a drive-thru site at the Rochester fairgrounds.

Specimens will be tested by Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

Health officials said people who think they should be tested for coronavirus should call their primary care provider first. They'll be directed to the site if their symptoms warrant testing.

Officials said the site could be fully operational as early as this week. It would be the third drive-thru testing site in Rochester.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Law enforcement concerns about mental health, protective gear

The sheriff in western Minnesota's Clay County said over the weekend that most people are complying with requests to stay home and limit exposure to groups to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Sheriff Mark Empting said that as the pandemic shutdown of schools and many businesses moves into the second week, his top concern is people's mental health.

"With people that may potentially be losing their jobs, their houses and their vehicles, things like that — I am afraid that we may start to see more more assaults on people, maybe more property crimes, maybe more people wanting to harm themselves," he said. "That also takes a toll on our staff as well."

Empting said inaccurate information on social media is causing some of the anxiety. He says his office is trying to counteract the misinformation when possible.

Empting also said his deputies currently lack protection if they come in contact with people who have the COVID-19 virus.

"We don't have the gear that we need; we've got it ordered, we've got it coming," he said. "We were able to purchase hand sanitizer through Proof distillery in Fargo, and that's kind of a unique situation where you're having a distillery make hand sanitizer for you — but we needed it."

Empting said over the weekend that he was unsure when the county will get protective gear. He said state officials will send masks and other gear to law enforcement when it is available.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Target apologizes for selling face masks amid shortage

Minnesota-based Target Corp. apologized Saturday for selling face masks in Seattle stores while hospitals face a dire shortage.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said his office intervened when it received reports Saturday that the much-needed N95 masks were on Target shelves.

“Those masks are now on their way to the health care workers who desperately need them,” Inslee wrote on Twitter.

Target said on Twitter that the masks were being sold in error in “select Seattle stores” and that it was removing them from shelves and donating them to the Washington Department of Health.

The company said it would also search its inventory for additional masks to donate.

— The Associated Press

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard in Steele County on 103.9 FM or online at MPRnews.org.

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