Gov. Tim Walz on March 22 announced a stay-at-home order set last until at least April 10.
The order, which brings Minnesota into uncharted territory when it comes to restrictions on daily life, is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, which was first declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11.
“It’s too late to flatten the curve like we’ve talked about,” Walz said during his message that was broadcasted via Facebook live. “The testing regime was not in place soon enough for us to be able to do that, so what our objective is now is to move the infection rate out, slow it down, and buy time so that the resources of ICU and hospitals can be stood up to address that.”
The stay at home order for Minnesotans ends at 5 p.m. April 10.
Modeling released today by the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota, as presented by Walz in his announcement, showed 74,000 Minnesotans could die from COVID-19 if the state were to take no mitigation action.
The data also showed that with zero mitigation efforts, Minnesota would have seen a peak in COVID-19 cases within nine weeks from March 22.
“The terrifying part — and the thing that we cannot allow to happen — is we would have reached peak ICU capacity in six weeks,” Walz said. “The 235 available beds is not a misprint — that is what we have available today. That is what is really pressing on us and has to change.”
Walz added that the data shows that up to 2.4 million Minnesotans would be infected without any mitigation efforts, leading to 6,000 people needing ICU treatment. The governor also stated that those who become sick with COVID-19 and need hospitalization have a 10-times greater chance of survival if they can access an ICU and a ventilator, according to the data.
The two-week order to stay home is forecast to significantly slow the spread of COVID-19 and allow the state time to make key preparations for the pandemic — specifically building hospital capacity, increasing testing, and access to ventilators and personal protective equipment; planning for how to care for vulnerable populations and assessing public health data to determine which community mitigation strategies are most effective. Walz said that this significant mitigation effort should move Minnesota’s peak in COVID-19 cases back an additional five weeks.
“We will work with our world-renowned health care sector, cutting-edge manufacturers, innovative business community and strong-spirited Minnesotans across the state to tackle this virus head on,” Walz said. “These are trying times, but we are Minnesotans. We see challenges and we tackle them. No matter how daunting the challenge, no matter how dark the times, Minnesota has always risen up by coming together.”
Workers employed in critical sectors are exempt from the stay at home order. These exemptions are based on federal guidance from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with some Minnesota-specific additions. This includes, but is not limited to, jobs in healthcare, law enforcement, first responders, emergency shelters, child care, food and agriculture, news media, energy, water and wastewater and critical manufacturing.
“They’re stating that if you’re not an essential business – and that is open a little bit to interpretation – that you should not be doing business,” said Brad Meier, president of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “We are looking for more clarity on that, but the whole point of it is to try to continue to keep people as limited in their interactions in person as possible.”
According to the stay at home order, businesses such as grocery stores, funeral homes, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores, banks, post offices, liquor stores, and child care facilities may remain open at this time, but Meier stated that they are anticipating additional closures for various retail stores, which aren’t currently covered in existing executive orders.
“Everybody wants to do the right thing, and right now we are simply trying to figure out what that right thing is to do,” Meier added. “That’s going to continue to be the push and pull on this thing – how do we get through this without bankrupting our economy and keeping the public safe.”
Walz also issued executive orders extending the closure of bars, restaurants and other public accommodations set forth in a pair of executive orders until 5 p.m. May 1. He also authorized the Commissioner of Education to implement a distance learning period for Minnesota’s students beginning Monday and lasting through May 4.
“If we unite as One Minnesota, we will save lives,” Walz stated.