The Minnesota governor is announcing a plan to help communities fight the spread of COVID-19 around the state.
Gov. Tim Walz held a news conference at the state capitol Friday with Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm. They are announcing "community mitigation" strategies for Minnesotans, and Walz has declared a peacetime state of emergency.
"Over the past several weeks we have forecast exactly this scenario. The systems, and I stress the systems that are in place to deal with this, and the Minnesota Department of Health, and our private sector health care, is prepared to deal with this," Walz assured Minnesotans. "The mechanisms to be able to make sure they're able to do that is what will change."
As of Friday, March 13, the MDH announced that there are 14 presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in the state. The counties affected so far are Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Stearns and Wright.
Wisconsin also announced a total of 18 cases as of March 13, with one positive case listed as "recovered."
As part of the new community mitigation strategy, the MDH is recommending postponing or canceling:
- Large events where 250 people or more would gather, including but not limited to:
- Professional, college, and school performances or sporting events
- Smaller events (fewer than 250 people) that are held in venues that do not allow social distancing of 6 feet per person
- This includes gatherings in crowded auditoriums, rooms or other venues
- Events with more than 10 people where the majority of participants are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including gatherings such as those at:
- Retirement facilities
- Assisted living facilities
- Developmental homes
- Support groups for people with health conditions
MDH is also recommending:
- People and families at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness staying at home and avoiding gatherings or other situations of potential exposures, including travel
- Employers making telework arrangements for workers whose duties can be done remotely
- Employers staggering work schedules and limiting non-essential work travel
- Health care facilities and assisted-living facilities more strictly limiting visitors
- Faith-based organizations offering video or audio events
- Hospitals and other health care facilities implementing triage before entering facilities (for example, parking lot triage, phone triage, and telemedicine to limit unnecessary visits)
"We're trying to slow down and spread out the impact of coronavirus in Minnesota," Commissioner Malcolm emphasized. "We have long since thought it is not possible to stop it, but it makes a world of difference if we can slow it down and spread it out, and that's what these strategies are designed to do."
The full plan of action is available online. Malcolm said that a peacetime emergency means Walz can invoke the MDH's policies as mandatory. Walz also said it means he could call out the National Guard to help in the fight against the coronavirus if needed.
Gov. Walz said by declaring a peacetime emergency, he mandates that:
- The Minnesota Department of Health will continue to lead the coordination of the state's response to COVID-19, in consultation with federal, state and local partners, tribal nations, relevant experts and stakeholders.
- The Department of Public Safety's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will continue to assist MDH and coordinate support through the State Emergency Operations Center.
Walz said he talked with Vice President Mike Pence, and had a conference call involving the entire Minnesota congressional delegation to discuss his emergency order.
He has also been in regular contact with the governors of Illinois and Michigan, whose states are taking a similar approach as Minnesota.
"I think what you're seeing is that a coordinated national effort and a common message would certainly help in this effort, but our individual states and health care systems are prepared to deal with this," Walz said.
The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
MDH maintains a regularly updated webpage with "Situation Updates," including the status of "persons under investigation" who are being tested. MDH also has a larger COVID-19 coronavirus information page, with links to additional facts and resources about coronavirus.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also keeps this page updated with numbers of tested cases, and those that tested positive, along with more information for Wisconsin residents.
Minnesota has issued some "social distancing" guidelines for schools as well, but did not recommend schools closing as of March 13.