The Health Department on Friday confirmed 115 cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota through 3,856 tests Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order prohibiting price gouging during a peacetime emergency.
Schools and many businesses remain closed, or with limited hours or access — and measures to contain the spread of coronavirus could soon become more extreme. Walz said he’s not ready yet for a shelter-in-place order, but that could change at any moment as new information come in.
Two Minnesota patients are in intensive care, Walz said. The Health Department identified 15 cases of COVID-19 community transmission, but said there’s likely many more than that across the state.
The continued national shortage of coronavirus testing supplies has state health officials cautioning that the number of COVID-19 cases is much higher than the data show — and that the life-threatening virus is spreading across Minnesota. Minnesota leaders say people should still stay home as they’re able and practice social distancing.
People who are sick and still choose to go out in public “are undermining all we as a community are trying to accomplish” with mitigation efforts, said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.
Walz said there was a queue of more than 1,800 samples waiting to be tested earlier in the week, but by Friday 1,291 remained.
Many Minnesotans have shared stories online about trying to get tested, but not qualifying for such a test as the state rations its supplies for those at greatest risk.
Malcolm said people who have symptoms they can manage at home should do so. “It is not necessary to have a COVID-19 diagnosis,” she said.
Twenty-one Minnesota counties have confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Friday: Anoka, Benton, Blue Earth, Carver, Chisago, Clay, Dakota, Filmore, Hennepin, Martin, Mower, Nicollet, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Rice, Scott, Stearns, Waseca, Washington and Wright.
Other updates from state leaders:
• The Health Department is working to model how many intensive care beds and ventilators Minnesota has vs. how many could become necessary in the outbreak.
• More than 95,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits this week, Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said. About 85 percent of them had never applied for unemployment benefits before, he said, and a third are from restaurant, bar or entertainment workers.
• Unemployment is “not a catch-all tool,” Grove said — his agency is trying to figure out ways to help freelance and 1099 workers.
• Walz said he’s working to get legislative assistance to to get help for child care providers — both schools and centers — so they’ll be paid in real time because they are on the edge. “My intention is to get them the money as quickly as possible,” he said.
• The Education Department is seeking a waiver on testing for this school year.
• The Federal Emergency Management Agency is now the lead federal agency on COVID-19, Walz said. “We have great confidence in FEMA and our local partners,” Walz said, adding that he’s hopeful the agency will help “break the logjam” on personal protective equipment shortages.
• Walz has asked President Trump for permission to activate the Minnesota National Guard under a law that has the federal government paying the bills.
• State lawmakers say they will meet in session again when necessary to pass legislation related to the state’s COVID-19 response. So far, nothing is scheduled. Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka says he believes senators will need to vote in person and they have a plan for keeping people safe while voting.