Governor Walz Urges Minnesotans to ‘Double Down’ to Fight Spread of COVID-19
Governor Walz, Health Officials Caution About Rising Community Transmissions of COVID-19 in Minnesota
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Thursday urged state residents to “double down” in efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Walz and the state’s top health officials stressed that rising community spread is a cause for concern.
“The backyard meetings, the barbecues, families mixing together not in their immediate family, is driving a lot of what’s happening here,” said Walz, during a press conference before Labor Day weekend.
Walz pointed to a visit last weekend from the White House’s top science advisor, Dr. Deborah Birx, who warned the state could be headed toward an explosion of new cases if greater progress isn’t made in reducing the case positivity rate.
“We are starting to look like other states have looked like before they reached that tipping point,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.
|COVID-19 Comparisons||July 1||Now|
|Weekly Average of Cases||482||732|
|Case Positivity Rate||4.3%||5.5%|
Health officials continue to stress that gatherings are driving case counts. They pointed to a wedding held indoors in southwest Minnesota that led to 56 cases, impacting nine counties. Some of the positive cases included teachers and long-term health care workers. Health leaders did not identify the exact location of the wedding.
“We know that each case results in more cases,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s top infectious disease expert. “We need people to understand that their risk tolerance or confidence in their own ability to shrug off COVID, doesn’t mean they can’t pass it along to others.”
Newly Released County Case Rates Impact Schools
According to the updated 14-day case rate released Thursday, Hennepin County had 19.56 cases per 10,000 people between Aug. 9 and Aug. 22. That case rate has trickled downward in recent weeks. From July 19 to Aug. 1, the case rate was 24.17 cases per 10,000 people. The Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education uses these figures to guide school districts in their planning. According to the state’s guidance released in late July, in-person learning would be suggested for elementary students if cases are in that 10 to 19 range per 10,000 people. That range would suggest hybrid learning for secondary students.
However, districts can take a more cautious approach. Robbinsdale, Osseo, Anoka-Hennepin and Wayzata school district will all start the year with at least some distance learning. Robbinsdale will start will all distance learning through at least September. Osseo will start with distance learning for the first two weeks. Another challenge facing districts is gathering enough staff to accommodate families for two learning models: hybrid and distance learning. Families can choose all distance learning as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create safety concerns.
Cases Rise Thursday, Planning for Vaccine Continues
Thursday also saw 1,047 new cases over the day prior. However, 264 of those cases were the result of delayed reporting by some private labs. The total number of cases since the pandemic reached Minnesota now stands at 78,123. Of that cumulative case total, 90% or 70,175 patients have recovered and are no longer considered infectious. The state also reported seven additional deaths Thursday, upping the state’s cumulative total to 1,837.
Meanwhile, health officials mentioned this week that they received a request from the federal government to be ready to distribute vaccinations for COVID-19 this fall. Ehresmann said on Wednesday that the state continues to work on its vaccine action plan. At Thursday’s press conference, she also cautioned Minnesotans not to let their guard down when they’re outside as it pertains to the novel coronavirus.
“I think some people have gotten the mistaken notion that being outside eliminates risk. It reduces risk, as compared to being indoors, but it does not eliminate risk,” she said.
Walz: CDC Guidance Suggests Turning Dial Backwards
Governor Walz said Thursday that CDC guidance suggests turning the state’s dial backwards, meaning increasing restrictions for business openings, such as bars and restaurants. While Walz didn’t indicate that’s what he would do, he said there are continued discussions around that possibility.
“We as a state, in our economic activities, rank in the top third in terms of what’s open, what’s happening,” said Walz. “The virus will dictate where we go. We have not dialed backwards.”
Walz also mentioned he had a meeting Thursday with Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. Walz called the meeting an opportunity to “clear the air.”
“Senator Gazelka definitely sees our response to COVID differently,” he said.
The governor must also decide by Sept. 11 whether to extend his peacetime emergency powers.
“We’re having that discussion now,” said Walz. “We have to base it on science, we have to be smart.”