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Despite Republican criticism, Walz defends Stay at Home as life-saving move

Gov. Walz said hospitals, health care experts, and Mayo Clinic all support his extended Stay at Home order

Gov. Tim Walz pushed back Thursday against Republican opposition to his extended Stay at Home order, arguing that the experts support his decision and that it is a necessary move to delay the peak of COVID-19 in Minnesota.

“The purpose of (the order),” Walz said, “is to ensure that everyone gets the hospital room they need, gets the fighting chance to make sure they come through this.”

Walz made his comments during a daily briefing with the news media, shortly after Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) tweeted disapproval with the governor’s “unilateral” extension and said that “we have to get on with our lives.”

In a second tweet, Gazelka questioned the state’s high-end projection of 5,000 ICU patients in June, arguing that “New York State has less than 5,000 people in the ICU TODAY!” Based on population and current capacity, Gazelka claimed “we are ready for the surge now. Why shut MN businesses down for a NY sized surge?”

In his press briefing, Walz pointed out that the state’s models suggest a confidence interval between 3,000 and 5,000 for ICU need. And he said the Minnesota Hospital Association, health care experts, the Mayo Clinic, and other data points support the decision for an extended Stay at Home order, which Minnesota’s models show would potentially push the peak in June or July.

“If the hospital association told me today, ‘governor, we got it. Send everyone back to work. We got plenty of PPE, plenty of doctors, plenty of beds, plenty of ventilators,’ we would do it, now,” Walz said. “But not a single one of them is saying that.”

The Walz administration has long argued that a dramatic decrease in physical interaction, achieved by the Stay at Home order, will “buy time” for the state to obtain ventilators, ICU beds, PPE, and more widespread testing methods.

“I hope we don’t need a single ventilator. But I can’t just hope,” Walz said. “I have to plan.”

Other lawmakers have signaled a desire for more balance between health and the economy, without specifically opposing the Stay at Home order itself. Sen. Eric Pratt (R- Prior Lake) sent a letter this week to the Walz administration seeking more relief for small businesses. 

“We have a lot of jobs and a lot of small businesses that can do their work safely, without putting them or their customers at risk," Pratt said in a video posted to Facebook. "And they should be allowed to continue.”

The governor’s extended order does carve out some exemptions for outdoor workers – and it directs Walz’s commissioners to study ways to bring back other non-critical employees if it’s safe.

“I will certainly change course of action based on the facts,” Walz said. “But, the facts don’t support taking this off right now.”

Speaking of those facts – there are a number of different COVID-19 models in public view right now, including one from the University of Washington that the federal government has cited often. Minnesota and many other states are using their own modeling, based on different factors and criteria. 

On Friday, at 11 a.m., the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health will team up for a presentation that may help clarify the state’s modeling and the statistics that are driving top decision-makers.

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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.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.