by CHRIS ROGERS
Minnesota is returning to a partial lockdown. With COVID cases beginning to fill up hospitals across the state and many hospital and nursing home staffs stretched thin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) announced today a new public health order closing gyms, bars, and restaurant dining rooms and prohibiting social gatherings and youth and adult sports. The order takes effect this Friday at midnight at extends through the next four weeks, ending on December 19.
Under the order, both indoor and outdoor social gatherings with anyone outside of your immediate household are prohibited. Bars and restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery only, gyms and indoor entertainment venues must close, and adult and youth sports must be cancelled. Places of worship and barbershops and salons are allowed to remain open. “Stay home when you’re able,” state officials advised. “Only gather with your immediate household.”
“So much has been asked of you, and I need to ask a little more,” Walz said. He described the new order as a four-week pause and a dialing back of the state’s reopening. A vaccine is just around the corner, but without action to slow the spread, hundreds of Minnesotans will die this winter before they can get one, Walz stated. This pause will stop ballooning case growth from overwhelming hospitals and help save lives, he told Minnesotans. “No one thinks that this is easy, and no one thinks that this is fair in how this is hitting. This virus is not fair,” Walz added.
The announcement comes as COVID infections are mushrooming at an incredible pace and hospitalizations and deaths are accelerating. It took Minnesota more than seven months to reach 100,000 cases, and within just the last six weeks, another 100,000 people tested positive for COVID-19. At the current rate, state experts projected another 100,000 will test positive by Thanksgiving. Similarly, it took nearly six months to reach the first 2,000 deaths from COVID in the state and another 1,000 have died in the last two months. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates another 2,279 Minnesotans will die by January 1 without action to curb the virus’ spread.
With so much of the coronavirus going around everywhere in Minnesota, health care workers are getting sick and exposed while going about their daily lives off work, and that’s causing staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes. Hospitals across the state — including Winona Health, Gundersen Health System, and the Mayo Clinic — have warned that trend could threaten their ability to care for patients and urged everyone to follow guidelines to reduce transmission. State officials reported that 95 percent of intensive care unit beds in Southeast Minnesota are in use.
“Nurses are asking that everyone heed the guidance of the administration by following these new restrictions, masking up, and spending the holidays with those who live in your immediate household,” Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary C. Turner stated. “The safety of Minnesotans rests on it.”
“Every day brings us closer to having safe and effective vaccines, but we must take action now to slow down the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading in all corners of our state,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “Our health care workers continue to work hard to provide care but we can’t afford to overwhelm them. Every Minnesotan needs to understand that they have a key role to play here. That means staying home and avoiding close contact with those outside your household. It means wearing a mask when you do need to go out in public. It means staying home when you’re not feeling well. It means getting tested when appropriate and isolating until you get the test results.”
Walz also announced an additional $10 million in Small Business Relief Grants, enough for 1,000 businesses. He acknowledged, that’s far short of what it is needed. The state itself is facing a projected $2.4-billion budget deficit, and Walz called on Congress to aid businesses and workers sacrificing to keep others safe. “We need the United States Congress and the current administration and the incoming administration to come up with a plan to help us with this,” he said. Walz continued, “To all Minnesotans who are struggling to get by, I know this pandemic is devastating. This pandemic is not fair. We need federal support to help keep our businesses afloat, our workers paid, and our families with food on the table. I will continue to fight with every fiber of my being for that support that you need and deserve.”
More information on the new rules is available at staysafe.mn.gov. Watch Gov. Walz’s complete video address here.