Tuesday, April 14
The Minnesota Legislature has approved a COVID-19 relief bill, the fourth such measure approved by the state in recent weeks.
The House passed the package 103-31 and sent it to the Senate, which approved it 64-3 and forwarded it to Gov, Tim Walz for his signature.
The bill contains “mostly policy tweaks that we need in order for Minnesotans to live their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters before the vote. But she highlighted a provision that allows couples to obtain marriage licenses online or by mail rather than in person during the public health crisis.
Other highlights include provisions that will: make it easier for health care providers to use telemedicine; cover some testing costs for the uninsured; extend various deadlines and expiration dates, including for mediation of disputes between farmers and creditors; codify temporary rules under which lawmakers can vote remotely and state agencies can exercise emergency powers and; make it easier for government bodies to meet remotely while complying with open meeting laws.
The Legislature earlier approved bills providing an initial $21 million for the Minnesota Department of Health, and $200 million for health care providers. A third bill ensures that first responders, health care workers and child care workers who serve the families of those front-line employees qualify for workers compensation if they catch COVID-19.
The Associated Press contributed to the above report.
Governor Tim Walz clarified that the Peacetime Emergency order is different from the Stay at Home order. The extension to the Peacetime Emergency to May 13 does not affect the Stay at Home order, which is currently set to expire May 4.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that Monday was a low-volume testing day, which is why there weren't many more new cases Tuesday. However, there were nine deaths Monday, bringing the total to 79. There's a total of 1,695 positive cases in the state.
Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said he will be meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss plans it can provide in setting up alternative care sites to help deal with any surge in COVID-19 cases.
Commissioner of Department of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove said that more than 450,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment insurance in the past month, which is more than double the total from all of 2019.
People who are self-employed or are contractors should apply for benefits now even though they will be denied at the moment. This is because their information will be in the system, which will allow them to received the benefits faster once this category of workers is able to receive benefits, which Grove said should be by the end of this month.
Walz said the state is going full speed to expand testing to unprecedented levels. Walz said he is optimistic the state will be able to ramp up testing in the early short run. He also expressed hopes to move into the type of testing that would show who has already had the virus and is immune.
Malcolm said different health institutions are trying to develop different testing methods in order to avoid material shortages.
Fifty-seven of the 79 deaths in the state due to the virus have been individuals who were in long-term care, Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said. Ninety eight point five percent of the people who have died due to the virus have underlying or pre-existing health conditions, Ehresmann added.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported 45 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state on Tuesday, and nine additional deaths related to the virus.
There are now 1,695 total positive cases, and 79 deaths. Of the people who have tested positive, 909 no longer require isolation.
In total, 405 people have been hospitalized, and 177 of them are still currently in the hospital. Seventy-five of those people are in the ICU.
The number of people who have been tested in Minnesota since late January is inching closer to 40,000. As of Tuesday's update, it stands at 39,241. Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that he believes the state will need to be testing more like 40,000 people per week before it will be possible to fully reopen the economy.
The median age of all cases is 52 years old, and 65 for hospitalized cases and ICU patients. The median age of people who have died is 87. The youngest person to test positive was 4 weeks old, according to MDH, and the oldest was 104.
Hennepin County has the most cases at 588, and 40 deaths. Ramsey County has 153 cases and seven deaths, and Olmsted has 147 cases and two deaths. Dakota County has passed the 100-case mark with 103, and has reported five deaths.
Researchers and public health officials in Minnesota have estimated that for every one lab-confirmed case, there are 100 more that have not been officially detected.
Monday, April 13
Minnesota will not open for business until there is more widespread COVID-19 testing, Gov. Tim Walz said on his regular update call with state officials Monday.
The governor said he is "totally supportive" of allowing Minnesota restaurants to sell alcohol along with their takeout food. He said he hopes the state legislature will move that measure Tuesday, and he can sign it the same day.
"We're trying to do everything we can to keep these businesses afloat," Walz said, reiterating that with the recent extension of the "Stay at Home" order his administration is working with businesses to figure out how to get people back to work if it can be done while allowing for social distancing.
When asked about a timetable for a more large-scale reopening of the economy, though, Walz said "the virus will lay out the timetable for us."
"There’s not a debate here about whether we need to get the economy open again, of course we do," Walz said.
He referenced the Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls, which temporarily closed down with 300 workers testing positive for COVID-19. If businesses reopen and allow people to go back to work without measures in place to mitigate the virus' spread, "the economy shuts down anyway," Walz said.
Walz maintained that he believes the only way to reopen the economy is to be able to more widely test and find out who currently has the virus, and who has already had it and has built up some immunity. Then those who are vulnerable or sick can remain isolated, while others go back to work.
"I’ve said from the beginning, we cannot shelter in place or stay at home until we get a vaccine," Walz said. "That’s not sustainable. We knew that."
About 40,000 people in Minnesota have been tested for coronavirus so far since late January, among a global shortage of test kits, swabs, reagent and personal protective equipment needed to administer the tests.
Walz said he believes we will need to be testing 40,000 Minnesotans per week in order to more fully reopen the economy - or about 5,000 per day.
Citing a lack of federal supply of testing equipment to states, Walz said his administration is working to increase testing capacity within the state, independently and in collaboration with neighboring states.
"We’re going to attempt to ramp up our testing fairly significantly in the short term," he said. When asked if it would be ready by May 4, the date the "Stay at Home" order is scheduled to be lifted, Walz said, "We'll find that out."
He acknowledged that ramping up testing, with the limited supplies, will be a "hard lift."
"Those that keep asking, 'What’s the plan to reopen?'" Walz said. "The plan to reopen is very, very clear. Test, trace, isolate, open back up. And continue this until we get a vaccine."
During the Monday update, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said that he is working with the governor on releasing an updated budget projection in early May, so they can gain a better understanding of COVID-19's effect on the state's finances.
They are placing a hiring freeze on all executive branch positions that are not related to coronavirus response. In addition, Gov. Walz, his chief of staff, and all 24 cabinet commissioners will be taking a 10% pay cut for the remainder of the year.
Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle also announced that starting Monday, Metro Mobility will provide free door-to-door transit to any health care worker who needs a ride to or from work. That service is available 24/7. Health care workers can sign up online or by phone, and will need to provide their employee identification to Metro Transit.
Zelle said they are able to do this because of the drop in demand for other services. Metro Transit has also been delivering groceries and food from food shelves, Zelle said.
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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.
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