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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

COVID-19 cases rise, more restrictions being considered

Unemployment claims are five times old weekly record

David Colburn
Posted 3/20/20

STATEWIDE- While the number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota jumped to 115 on Friday, with 15 linked to community spread, Gov. Tim Walz did not impose any new closures or restrictions during an …

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COVID-19 cases rise, more restrictions being considered

Unemployment claims are five times old weekly record

Posted

STATEWIDE- While the number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota jumped to 115 on Friday, with 15 linked to community spread, Gov. Tim Walz did not impose any new closures or restrictions during a Friday afternoon news conference.

Calling the past week “confusing and disruptive,” Walz said additional restrictions could be coming as state leaders collect and analyze more data about how to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re trying to balance this in real time and balance this with the employers out there,” Walz said.
Infectious disease epidemiology department director Kristen Ehresmann emphasized that people should practice social distancing and stay at home when sick, as everyone is at risk for exposure.

“We have evidence of comm transmission in Minnesota,” Ehresmann said. “This means Covid-19 is circulating in all our communities.”

The state received more than 95,000 applications for unemployment insurance this week after it was opened to all employees affected by COVID-19-related closures. Nearly 37,000 of those applicants were restaurant and bar employees, a department representative said. The previous record for new unemployment insurance claims in a week was 18,000.

A new call center with 50 additional employees is being established to deal with the volume and reduce wait times. People were strongly encouraged to use the unemployment insurance website, uimn.org, to apply as opposed to calling.

Walz noted the attorney general has been receiving complaints of price gouging, citing an example of a price of $60 for hand sanitizer. While Minnesota does not have a law preventing price gouging, the state attorney general can take some actions on complaints. While Walz mentioned an executive order prohibiting the practice during peacetime emergency, no such order had been posted to the list of orders on the governor’s web page as of mid-afternoon.

A bill has been introduced in the legislature to prohibit price gouging, but the legislature is currently in recess.

Additional actions already taken that Walz reviewed during the news conference included:

  • Making school-based child care available to grocery workers, in addition to emergency services and healthcare personnel. 5,100 children from Kindergarten to sixth grade are receiving school-based services.
  • An emergency special enrollment period established for the state health insurance exchange, MNsure, for qualified uninsured individuals from Monday, March 23 through Tuessday, April 21.
  • Banning of all elective surgeries and non-emergency dental care as of Monday, March 23.
  • A 30-day sales and use tax grace period for businesses affected by the governor’s closure order. Businesses with a payment due March 20 must still file their return, but do not have to make the payment until April 20 and will not be assessed interest or penalties.

In response to questioning Walz acknowledged that orders to shelter-in-place and to mandate mall closings are under consideration, and that he is prepared to impose those actions sometime in the future if they are determined to be necessary to halt the spread of the virus.

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