by CHRIS ROGERS
Minnesota’s stay-at-home order and the closure of bars, restaurants, and other businesses will be extended until May 4, Governor Tim Walz announced on Wednesday. The decision comes as state experts project Minnesota will be hard-pressed to get enough intensive care unit (ICU) beds, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the thousands that may need them in the next few months as COVID-19 reaches its peak in the state.
The stay-at-home order — also known as a shelter-in-place order — requires all Minnesotans to stay at home except to work in essential industries, to run essential errands, and to seek medical care. The closure of places of “public amusement” forces bars, restaurants, cinemas, and gyms to close, with exceptions for delivery and take-out food service. Walz said his administration would be tweaking those orders to allow some shuttered businesses to go back to work in very limited ways — for example, allowing golf courses to manage their landscaping.
“If it were safe and we could protect people, we would open every business tomorrow,” Walz said. Unfortunately, Minnesota needs to buy more time to ramp up hospital capacity and procure more PPE to get ready for the peak of this outbreak, he stated.
Walz and MDH Commissioner Jan Malcom shared new information on state models of how bad the COVID-19 outbreak could be. The MDH projects that Minnesota will need roughly 3,000 to 5,000 ICU beds at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak sometime between mid-May and July, according to Walz’s presentation. Right now, the state only has 2,770 ICU beds, including the current capacity for rapidly creating new ICU units. The state faces a similar need for more ventilators. PPE could be an even greater challenge. Minnesota needs the federal government’s and businesses’ help in producing more PPE so supplies do not run out during the peak, Walz said.
By extending the stay-at-home order, continuing social distancing, and cutting down on the person-to-person contact that allows the virus to spread, Minnesota can both delay the peak and reduce the peak’s intensity, Walz stated, citing MDH projections. If Minnesota does nothing, around 50,000 Minnesotans could die, according to MDH modeling described by Malcolm. With all of the steps being taken, that death toll could be in the 20,000 range, or as even as low 6,000, according to Malcolm. She stressed that the models are simply predictions and they all have wide margins of error. “There isn’t a precise [estimate], and we really still want to counsel people that we’re not predicting a certain number of deaths will or won’t happen … It’s directional,” Malcolm said. In other words, models show general trends, not precise predictions.
So far, the stay-at-home order and social distancing have been successful in slowing down the virus, but that hard-won progress could be erased in days if Minnesota lifts those restrictions, Walz said. He pointed to New York and Louisiana, where the number of infections and deaths quickly spiraled out of control. “We cannot rest easy,” Walz stated. “This thing can explode overnight if you don’t take the proper precautions.”
“We’re facing an historic public health crisis, and Minnesotans are rising to the challenge,” Malcolm said. “The social distancing and community mitigation efforts Governor Walz implemented have secured us much-needed time to prepare more fully for the predicted peak in cases, and today’s announcement gives us a better chance to save even more lives. We are thankful for the tremendous effort and sacrifices Minnesotans are making.”
Under the extended order, Minnesotans may leave their residences only to perform the following activities, and while doing so, they should practice social distancing:
- Relocation to ensure safety, such as relocating to a different location if your home is unsafe due to domestic violence, sanitation, or reasons related to essential operations.
- Health and safety activities, such as obtaining emergency services or medical supplies.
- Outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking, running, biking, hunting, or fishing.
- Necessary supplies and services, such as getting groceries, gasoline, or carry-out.
- Essential intrastate and interstate travel, such as returning to a home from outside this state.
- Care of others, such as caring for a family member, friend, or pet in another household.
- Displacement, such as moving between emergency shelters if you are without a home.
- Moving or relocation, such as moving to a new home or place of residence.
- Voting, including all local and state elections.
- Funerals, provided that no more than 10 attendees are gathered and strict social distancing is enforced.
- Tribal activities and lands, such as activities by members within the boundaries of their tribal reservation.
Executive Order 20-33 also orders that all workers who can work from home must do so. Workers in critical sectors who cannot work from home are permitted to go to work. Guidance related to critical sectors is available at http://mn.gov/deed/critical/.
Frequently asked questions are available here: https://mn.gov/covid19/faq/.