ST. PAUL — Minnesotans will remain under a stay-at-home order through May 4, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday, April 8, as the state continues work to push back a peak of COVID-19 cases.
In a televised news conference, the governor said he would extend the order requiring Minnesotans to stay home except for when obtaining essential services and planned to take into consideration additional revisions as Minnesotans continue to limit travel and social gatherings. The order extends the definition of essential work authorized to cover landscapers and business owners checking on their facilities or managing supplies shipped in while they're shuttered.
The original order took effect March 27 and was set to continue through Friday. The extension comes Wednesday as the Minnesota Department of Health reported 1,154 cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota of 30,753 tested for the illness. Thirty-nine deaths have stemmed from the disease or complications.
Walz in recent days thanked Minnesotans for abiding by the original order and helping curb the projected spread of COVID-19, pushing out the projected peak in cases. Health officials have said social distancing measures have pushed a projected peak in cases past April and into the summer. Resulting hospitalizations were also projected to peak later, giving state emergency officials more time to build up personal protective equipment and intensive care unit capacity.
While Minnesota appears to be having more success than any other state in flattening the curve in disease spread, Walz warned that that success could be quickly lost if the orders were discontinued.
“We cannot rest easy. This thing can explode overnight if you don’t take the proper precautions,” Walz said. “The move to go to social distancing, the move to go early has kept us relatively flat ... by continuing the stay-at-home order, we buy more time.”
State officials didn't immediately share their updated modeling, causing some to question why they were making decisions about keeping businesses closed. Walz said more updated projections could be made public later in the week.
As part of the announcement, the governor also pushed out the date when dine-in restaurants, bars and places of public amusement are set to re-open until May 4. Restaurants have been allowed to remain open for delivery, takeout or curbside pickup.
The announcement comes a day after state health officials said they were encouraged to see the rate at which case totals in the state doubled had started to slow in Minnesota, suggesting the measures were effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. And so far, the state's health care system had not been overwhelmed by patients seeking care for COVID-19.
"We do know that the peak is yet to come. We do know there is a lot of disease in our state that has yet to show up in the (test) counts," Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "We have started from a good position and we need to keep up the good work."
With an antibody test coming online to determine if someone has had the disease and potential additional capacity to test Minnesotans for the illness, state officials said the additional weeks could also help them build up the capacity to test more Minnesotans. That could inform how quickly restrictions could lift and idled workers could get back into their professions.
The Minnesota Hospital Association said it supported the order asking Minnesotans to stay home. And a bipartisan group of state lawmakers said the governor made the right move to handle the pandemic.
With new social distancing behaviors well-understood in the state, Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday asked that Walz allow the stay-at-home order to lapse so the state's economy could begin recovering from the blow dealt by the pandemic. But they said they were glad to see some alterations in the extension allowing landscapers and others to go back to work Thursday.
"It is welcome news some businesses can open up and safely resume work, even as the stay-at-home order is extended," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said. "I will continue to share the feedback I get with the governor as he makes these decisions."
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon in a statement said the business community was prepared to support the state's efforts to fight the pandemic, but asked that lawmakers delay income and property taxes to offset financial hits they'd experienced due to the pandemic.
At least one lawmaker, Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, tweeted that she wouldn't abide by the order. "I'm not staying home," she wrote.
To date, law enforcement officers have been aiming to educate those who violate the orders unless it appears Minnesotans were trying to willfully violate them. A handful of citations were issued under the stay-at-home order in its first week.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.