November 19, 2020

Gov. Walz adds new COVID-19 restrictions to restaurants, bars, social gatherings

As hospitals expressed concern about capacity to treat Minnesotans with COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz announced on Nov. 10 new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus in Minnesota. Beginning Friday, Nov. 13, the restrictions apply to social gatherings, celebrations and receptions, and bars and restaurants, which are three of the most significant sources of COVID-19 outbreaks across the state. Gov. Walz also announced $10 million in funding to support small businesses affected by the pandemic.
"Since the beginning of this pandemic, we've asked Minnesotans to make unprecedented sacrifices for the greater good. And they've done it. Because when times are tough, Minnesotans pull together," said Gov. Walz. "Each step of the way, we've followed the best data available. These targeted, science-based actions will help get the spread of the virus under control so that we can care for those who fall ill, get our kids in the classroom, keep our businesses open, and get back to the activities we love."
At the beginning of the pandemic, the governor asked Minnesotans to help slow the spread of the virus as hospitals built up capacity to ensure they could care for everyone who falls ill. That extra capacity is now being put to the test as the virus spreads quickly across the state, region, and country. More people are getting sick, including our health care workers, which is impacting hospitals' ability to provide care even when there are enough actual hospital beds. These factors have caused hospital bed capacity to hover above 95 percent in many areas.
In order to make effective decisions to control the spread of COVID-19, health officials need to understand who, when, and where this virus is spreading. Health officials, with guidance from the White House, have analyzed testing results and contact tracing data to understand how the virus is spreading throughout the state. The results show that the virus is being disproportionately spread by younger adults between the ages of 18-35. Because of this, social settings which attract a younger crowd are the most significant sources of COVID-19 spread in the state. In fact, over 70 percent of COVID-19 outbreaks in Minnesota from June to November have a direct link back to weddings, private social gatherings, and late nights at bars and restaurants.
"Most young people are taking great precautions to protect themselves and their community," the governor continued. "Most bars and restaurants have done a great job responding to the pandemic and keeping their customers and employees safe. But this virus is spreading like wildfire, and every gathering place is now more dangerous than it was a month ago."
Starting Friday, Nov. 13, all bars and restaurants must now end dine-in service between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Indoor capacity will be capped at 150 people, and may not exceed 50 percent of an establishment's total capacity. Bar counter service will be closed for seating and service in all establishments besides those that only have counter service. In counter-service-only establishments, patrons can line up with masks and then return to their table. These restrictions follow research that shows these environments become more risky later in the evening.
Beginning Nov. 13, there will now also be a 10-person limit for indoor and outdoor gatherings, and all social gatherings will be limited to members of three households or less.
Capacity limits for receptions related to weddings, funerals, and similar events will be instituted through a phased approach, but will eventually lead to a 25-person cap. In addition, such receptions and similar events may not take place between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
All current restrictions also remain in effect. Since data has not shown a connection between religious services and the recent increase in outbreaks, there will be no change to religious services.
"Skyrocketing spread in our neighboring states is making its way to Minnesota," said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. "We are focused on protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Minnesotans during this challenging time. The decisions announced Nov. 10 take strong steps to target the riskiest spaces for COVID-19 to spread, according to the best data and resources we have available to us. Our team will continue to monitor the spread of the virus and take appropriate action to keep people safe."
"Minnesota is in a dangerous phase of the pandemic with a dramatic jump in new cases," said Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. "We've seen in other states how bad things can get when you have this kind of growth, and that's why it's critical that we take the right actions now to slow the spread of this disease. These focused actions taken by Gov. Walz are designed to address some of the hottest of the hot spots we've seen and reduce the burden on our health care system and the heroes providing care to all of us."
"Minnesota is at a critical juncture in the pandemic, and if we don't take action now we will be overwhelmed and facing the tragic scenario seen in neighboring states," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) and a newly-appointed member of President-elect Biden's COVID-19 advisory board. "Minnesotans need to be aware that overwhelmed health care systems will result in a catastrophic impact from a public health standpoint and also from an economic and social standpoint."
To support small businesses that are struggling as they do their part to combat the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Walz also announced $10 million in Small Business Relief Grants. This funding will support an additional 1,000 businesses that have applied for the grant program. It supplements hundreds of millions of dollars in small business support that Minnesota has allocated since the beginning of the pandemic.
"Public health and our economic vitality are tied at the hip ­ we can't make the kind of meaningful progress we want to on economic recovery until we get this pandemic under control. It's also clear that taking no action at this point would do more long-term harm to our economy than if we do some targeted things today," said Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove. "Let's work together to get this right, Minnesota, so that we can end these regulations as soon as possible and get everyone back to work."
This announcement came after a week of record-setting highs in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19. Minnesota's neighboring states have the highest infection rates in the nation. Minnesota's case positivity rate is above 10 percent, twice the level at which COVID-19 spread is considered controllable. On Monday, Nov. 9, the governor also announced a significant expansion in barrier-free testing across the state to help control the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 hits northeastern Minnesota hard, Twin Cities still far worse


Nov. 17 - Northeastern Minnesota had been relatively quiet when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the virus has made its way north and now cases are popping up everywhere.
The Cook Zip Code report shows 47 cases, Orr has 41 to date, while Crane Lake has 5. Tower-Soudan reports 41 so far.
St. Louis County as of Monday had 5,520 cases with 84 deaths, with 2,010 cases being reported in the last two weeks.
The cases in St. Louis County, the largest county in area in the state, are far less than in the Metro Area. Hennepin County has had 50,352 cases and 1,044 deaths, while Ramsey County reports 21,142 cases and 430 deaths, Anoka 15,956 cases and 189 deaths, Dakota County 15,556 cases and 159 deaths, and Washington County 10,390 cases and 95 deaths.
Worldwide the number of cases reported are 41,843,657 with 1,044,647 deaths. India reports 8,728,950 cases and 128,668 deaths, while Brazil has 5,748,375 cases and 163,373 deaths.
Minnesota has reported 224,000 cases and 2,961 deaths, with 7,559 new cases in that total and 31 new deaths. It has been reported that 23 are dying a day in long-term care facilities in the state. During the past week, 249 died from COVID-19 in Minnesota. The good news is that 172,873 who had the virus have recovered.
Wisconsin has reported over 300,000 cases.
Pharmaceutical firms started looking in earnest for a cure for this disease last January and in record time have now come up with two serums. One is considered 94.5 percent effective and the other 90 percent. Getting the serums out to the public who need to get the shots is the next big problem.
The pandemic appears to be causing far less deaths than when it was first reported, but one death is too many.
Meanwhile, many schools in Minnesota are going back to distance learning. This is supposed to happen when the number of cases goes higher than 50 per 10,000. Schools on distance learning are at 22 percent, though some reports say 67 percent should be.
Businesses and stores are reopening slowly as the economy starts to slowly respond, but some experts feel, even with the serums, this pandemic will be a major factor through the winter.

Senators Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni form new Independent Caucus

St. Paul, Minn. - State Senator Thomas Bakk (Cook) and Senator David Tomassoni (Chisholm) announced on Nov. 18 they are forming a new Minnesota Senate Independent Caucus. The northern Minnesota legislators say the new Independent Caucus presents an opportunity to chair committees and makes sense to better serve their districts within the legislative framework.
"People are going to wonder why I'm doing this ­ and to be honest, there are several reasons. I'm very disappointed by the extreme partisanship going on nationally and right here in Minnesota," Senator Bakk said. "Both political parties are to blame. The constant negative and sharp rhetoric is undermining voters' confidence in our public institutions. It doesn't have to stay this way."
"We have worked across party lines our entire careers," Senator Bakk said. "David and I have always voted our districts. We have always represented our districts as bi-partisan and moderate members of the Legislature. Forming this new caucus is just a natural progression of aligning more with moderate than the far right or left. Additionally, we will not stray from the values of northern Minnesota and what our people are most passionate about - our economy and jobs that support our families and our economic lifeline of mining and wood products. Our natural resource-based economy is critical to our region of the state."
Last week, Senator David Tomassoni was voted to serve as president of the Senate on a bi-partisan vote of both Democrats and Republicans. This is the first time in Minnesota history that there is a president elected from a minority party.
"Serving as chair of a Senate committee will allow me to better serve my communities and deliver results for my district," Senator Tomassoni said. "My constituents elected me to serve them to the best of my abilities. The Iron Range has provided the ore that has forged the steel that has made the bridges of America. If we expect to actually bridge the partisan divide, someone must take a proactive step to build such a bridge. I consider this to be a positive approach in an attempt to move away from the negative and partisan rhetoric while continuing to fully support our way of life on the Iron Range."
Tomassoni added, "People in the last election made it pretty clear that they wanted us to work together. For me that means a path forward to solving our economic and pandemic crisis in a bi-partisan fashion."


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