• 43°

Walz issues ‘stay at home’ order to curb coronavirus; city, county continuing essential services

By Minnesota Public Radio News and Albert Lea Tribune

 

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered Minnesotans to stay at home for two weeks, at least, as part of the state’s ongoing efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease.

The order isn’t a complete lockdown and it allows essential activities and services to continue, Walz said. People will be allowed to exercise outdoors and visit the grocery store, for example, with proper social distancing.

Tim Walz

”Buckle it up for a few more weeks,” the governor said. The order takes effect Saturday and lasts through April 10.

Walz said it’s impossible to lessen the number of Minnesotans who will become infected with COVID-19, but the stay home order is intended to push out the time of peak infections so there are intensive care unit beds available for those who need it.

“The thing that Minnesota is going to do is ensure if you need an ICU, it’s there,” Walz told the state in an address Tuesday.

Minnesota had 235 ICU beds available as of Tuesday, Walz said, adding that about 15 percent of COVID-19 cases will require hospitalization and 5 percent will need intensive care. The remaining 80 percent of infections are expected to be mild.

The goals of the order, Walz said, include:

• Build out hospital capacity

• Increase access to ventilators and other life-saving equipment

• Increase testing for COVID-19

• Address personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages for health workers

• Plan for how to protect and care for vulnerable populations in coming months

• Assess new data to inform mitigation strategy

On-site school closures last into early May under the order.

Nearly 80% of Minnesota jobs are considered essential under the order, said Steve Grove, the Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner.

Walz has already issued orders to keep Minnesotans from congregating in ways that might aid the disease’s spread, including shifting bars and restaurants to takeout-only service.

Other states have instituted so-called shelter-in-place rules, although many of those orders are similar to what Minnesota is already doing. Most allow for residents to go to grocery stores and pharmacies, take walks and walk pets.

The plans for extended curbs on daily life come as the state Health Department on Wednesday confirmed 287 cases of COVID-19 after 6,365 tests. Twenty-six people were in the hospital with the coronavirus. The number of cases is likely at least 10 times as high as the number of testing-confirmed cases, however, and an increasing number of people will likely require hospitalization in the coming days and weeks, according to health officials.

Officials are weighing constructing makeshift hospitals in school gymnasiums if needed. “We’re in good shape now but we need to be prepared to expand that system very quickly,” said the state’s emergency manager, Joe Kelly.

As that planning continues, experts remain worried about the well-being of doctors, nurses and other health care workers as the virus spreads.

Infections among health care workers elsewhere in the world are a worrying sign as a surge of illness approaches in the United States, said Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“We must never forget that we are going to lose some of the truest heroes in our country as health care workers are infected and die,” he told MPR News Wednesday. “We already have over 5,000 cases in health care workers in Italy alone. We already know of health care workers in this country (ill) because of inadequate protection.”

The U.S. needs to come up with a practical way to ease the burden on the health care system, he said, adding that Americans need to slow economic and public activity to stem the spread of the virus, but not in a way so onerous that people eventually disregard the danger.

Minnesota officials say early signs indicate that preventative measures are helping. Cellphone data and other information shows that social distancing is happening, Walz said, adding, “Minnesotans are taking this seriously.”

As of Wednesday, 122 coronavirus patients no longer required isolation, the Health Department said.

Walz, though, cautioned earlier in the week that more waves of coronavirus cases will come.

“There is no doubt that this is going to take some time,” Walz said. “It’s going to be well beyond Easter (April 12), and I don’t think it does us any good to pretend that it’s not.”

Walz contradicted President Trump, who, against the guidance and wishes of public health experts, said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

 

Confirmed cases

Blue Earth: 5

Mower County: 6

Olmsted County: 21

Steele County: 5

Waseca County: 1

— Information from the Minnesota Department of Health. Numbers have been adjusted after discovering the county of residence was different for a few patients than what was initially reported.

 

City, county continuing essential services

In the wake of Gov. Tim Walz’s order, the city of Albert Lea will continue its essential services policy until the order is lifted, according to a press release. All city buildings and facilities continue to be closed to the public at least through April 15.

During the closure, city services and operations will continue to be provided to the community through both phone and email. Many offices have made arrangements and alternative options for services. 

Information on how to contact city staff is located on the front page of the city’s website at www.cityofalbertlea.org as well as a number of COVID-19 resources for individuals and businesses.

The next Albert Lea City Council Meeting scheduled for April 13 will be via teleconference and televised on the Government Access Channel 180 on Charter Communications. It will also be available at www.youtube.com/cityofalbertlea.

Freeborn County buildings and facilities will continue to be closed to the public through 8 a.m. May 4.

Normal county services and operations will continue to be provided to the community on the same schedule, through both phone and email. Many offices have made arrangements to provide alternative options for services. 

A complete listing of department contacts for alternative method of services can be found at www.freeborn.mn.us.

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners workshop scheduled for March 31 is canceled and meetings scheduled for April 7 and 21will be via teleconference and televised online at www.freeborn.co.mn.us.

 

Information about specific Freeborn County Departments

Financial assistance programs:

Cash, emergency assistance, food, child care assistance

https://applymn.dhs.mn.gov

 

Health care:

https://www.mnsure.org/

If you are someone who is elderly, disabled or in a nursing home, you or someone authorized to act on your behalf should call the office at 507-377-5400 so a health care application can be mailed to you.

 

Child protection:

To make a child protection report, call 507-377-5400 and ask for child protection intake or call law enforcement

 

Adult protection/vulnerable adult reporting:

Call the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center at 1-844-880-1574 or call law enforcement

Adult mental health case management, children’s mental health case management

disability services, chemical health assessment and treatment coordination:

Call 507-377-5400 or go tohttps://www.co.freeborn.mn.us/135/Human-Services

Child support services:

If you typically drop off child support payments directly at the Human Services office, please contact the office to make arrangements. For questions, contact 507-377-5400.

 

Crime Victims Crisis Center:

Call 507-377-5460 

 

Law enforcement/courts

The law enforcement lobby will be open 24 hours a day for emergencies, and only cases with a high priority will be heard in district court through April 1. All parties will be escorted to and from any court hearings and must enter through the law enforcement entrance. People with court hearings scheduled in that time frame can call 507-377-5157 to determine if their case will be heard or rescheduled for a future date. 

 

County auditor-treasurer/assessor and recorder

People who need to drop off tax payments or real estate documents for the Freeborn County recorder or auditor-treasurer’s office can do so through a box in the law enforcement lobby.