REGIONAL— In a dramatic pronouncement on Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz announced a shelter-in-place order for all Minnesotans effective at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 27 through 5 p.m. on Friday, …
REGIONAL— In a dramatic pronouncement on Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz announced a shelter-in-place order for all Minnesotans effective at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 27 through 5 p.m. on Friday, April 10. “We must take bold action to save the lives of Minnesotans,” said Governor Walz. “Having served as a Command Sergeant Major in the Army National Guard, I know the importance of having a plan. While the virus will still be here when this order ends, this action will slow the spread of COVID-19 and give Minnesota time to get ready for battle.”
And a battle it will be, according to Walz, who cited recently-completed modeling by the Minnesota Department of Health that projects that more than 70,000 Minnesotans will die without further efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That same modeling shows that the governor’s shelter-in-place order will significantly slow the rate of new infections and give the state time to dramatically ramp up its capacity to deal with a health crisis that is unprecedented within the past century.
Walz acknowledged that the actions he ordered this week will not reduce the number of Minnesotans who are eventually stricken with the COVID-19 virus. State health officials expect that 2.4 million Minnesotans will contract the disease in what Walz described as the virus’s “first burn” through the population. “Most of us will experience this over the next 18 months,” he said.
Of those infected Minnesotans, about 85 percent will experience relatively mild symptoms that won’t require hospitalization. Of the 360,000 Minnesotans who may require hospitalization as a result of their infection, about a third— or approximately 119,000— are expected to require the services of an intensive care unit, or ICU. Currently, said Walz, Minnesota has 235 ICU beds statewide.
And health officials have learned, from countries like Italy and Spain, that when hospitals can’t provide the ICU service that patients require, deaths skyrocket. “That’s what’s happening in Italy,” said Walz. “They have no more ICU capacity, which is why so many are dying.”
According to Walz, the shelter-in-place order is designed to give the state more time to prepare for the effects of the pandemic. Without a shelter-in-place order, he said the state would likely reach its peak infection rate in nine weeks and peak ICU demand in just six weeks. He said sheltering-in-place and continuing social distancing is expected to lengthen the timeline to peak infection to 14 weeks, with peak ICU demand expected at 11 weeks. By then, state officials hope to have had time to convert major facilities, like sports stadiums and arenas, into massive temporary hospitals to treat the anticipated explosion in the COVID-19 caseload.
In addition to his shelter-in-place order, Walz extended the current closure order on restaurants, bars, and other public accommodations through May 1 and ordered schools to continue distance learning through May 4.
Walz acknowledged that his order, which many other governors around the country have issued in recent days, will significantly impact the state’s economy. “We’re trying to strike a proper balance so we’re not killing the economy while we work to slow the infection rate,” he said. That’s why he’s limiting his order to two weeks, according to Walz. He said health department modeling suggested that a longer order would not provide sufficient public health effects to justify the economic costs.
The governor’s order doesn’t strictly require Minnesotans to remain in their homes at all times. The public will still be able to leave their homes for certain activities, including:
• Health and safety activities, such as obtaining emergency services or medical supplies.
• Outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking, running, biking, or fishing, although the governor recommends people maintain social distance while doing such activities.
• Obtaining essential supplies and services, such as groceries, gasoline, or carry-out.
• Essential and interstate travel, such as returning home from outside the state.
• Caring for others, such as family members, friends, or pets in another household.
• Displacement, such as moving between emergency shelters if you are homeless.
• Relocating to ensure safety, such as to a different location as a result of domestic violence, or sanitation.
• Tribal activities, such as activities by band members within the boundaries of their reservations.
Workers in a number of critical sectors during this time are also exempt from the stay-at-home order. That includes businesses in the following sectors:
• Healthcare and public health.
• Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders.
• Emergency shelter operators.
• Childcare facilities.
• Food and agriculture.
• News media.
• Energy and utilities.
• Water and wastewater.
• Critical manufacturing.
While announcing an unprecedented order, Walz tried to sound a positive note, pointing out that Minnesota had already made significant progress in slowing the spread of the disease. “I could not be prouder of the way that Minnestans have stepped up at this time. We’ve pitched in together to make the changes necessary to save lives.”