REGIONAL- Restaurants and bars are going back to take-out only service and Minnesotans have been told to shun indoor and outdoor social gatherings with anyone outside their immediate households as …
REGIONAL- Restaurants and bars are going back to take-out only service and Minnesotans have been told to shun indoor and outdoor social gatherings with anyone outside their immediate households as Gov. Tim Walz enacted new restrictions Wednesday to combat a meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm the state’s healthcare system.
“We’re at a dangerous point in this pandemic,” Walz said in a televised speech announcing the new restrictions. “How we act, and how this virus moves, will have huge implications on the number of people who will be hospitalized and, ultimately, those who will lose their lives.”
Walz reiterated a message he and health officials have been sounding for the past week about the explosive rate of growth and the threat to the general public and the healthcare system.
“It took us 29 weeks to get the first 100,000 cases. It took only the next six weeks to get to 200,000 cases, and it’s going to take less than three weeks to get to 300,000,” Walz said. “The curve and the infection rate is exponentially going off the chart.”
The new restrictions will take effect Friday at 11:59 p.m. and last through Dec. 18. They include the following:
• Restaurants and bars are limited to take-out and delivery only.
• No indoor or outdoor gatherings, except with immediate household members.
• Fitness centers, gyms, yoga studios, martial arts facilities, and similar venues are closed.
• Indoor and outdoor entertainment events and activities are closed.
• Organized youth and adult sports, both competition and practice, are closed.
• Reception spaces for celebrations or private parties are closed.
Weddings, funerals, and similar planned ceremonies can still take place under Walz’s order, but receptions or gatherings related to those events are banned.
Walz and health officials hinted at the coming restrictions in a Friday press conference where they emphasized the alarming rate of growth in positive cases. Declining at the time to confirm more restrictions were in the works, Walz nonetheless was frank that a “dark winter” of COVID-19 had fallen upon the state and that he would take additional steps to protect citizens if necessary.
“It is time to suck it up and get through this,” Walz said. “We lost a 21-year-old with no underlying conditions today. We owe it to our neighbors, we owe it the health care workers, we owe it to the teachers, we owe it to our children to do the things we know that can slow this thing down.”
Health Commissioner Jan Malcom said that the positivity rate for testing had climbed from 9.8 percent to 13.1 percent in one week, and that new cases were running well ahead of the increase in testing volume.
Regionally, the biweekly case rate for schools in the northern part of St. Louis County spiked to 60.1, 10 points higher than the recommended level for shifting schools to all distance learning, and the highest of any are of the county, including Duluth.
Four new cases were identified last week at North Woods School, but Superintendent Reggie Engebritson said contact tracings showed the cases were isolated and that the school will continue in in-person learning mode. Superintendent Erik Erie confirmed that Ely schools also would stick with their learning model of hybrid for upper grades and in-person for elementary grades, at least through Thanksgiving.
While 20 long-term care facilities in the county are now on the state’s list of facilities with COVID-19 cases in the last 28 days among residents or staff, no facilities in Ely, Tower, Cook, Orr and the general region have been added in the past two weeks.
The marked increase in community spread of the virus has brought with it increased encouragement from health officials for people to get tested, whether they have symptoms or not. While the state has opened numerous new testing centers around the state, including Duluth, officials rolled out a new, more convenient option on Friday: in-home saliva tests ordered online.
An October pilot program proved successful, leading to the statewide initiative. The saliva test is as accurate as the invasive nasal swab tests that have been available throughout the pandemic and is appropriate for children and adults.
Subjects are provided with a vial and instructions for how to provide a saliva sample. The sealed specimen is then mailed to a lab for processing, and results are available within 24 to 48 hours after the sample is received by the lab.
More information about how to order and conduct the in-home test is available online at https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/testsites/athome.html.