MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Nov. 9, said the state continues to ramp up coronavirus testing capacity and is preparing to roll out additional measures to mitigate the spread of the illness this week as positivity rates continue to climb.
The first-term DFL governor, surrounded by saliva testing stations at the Minneapolis Convention Center, said the state would bring online more than two dozen additional no-barrier testing facilities around the state, and prepared Minnesotans for additional restrictions on gathering spaces that had been the source of COVID-19 spread in the past.
He said a stay-at-home measure like one he put in place this spring would be too blunt an instrument but suggested that a more tailored approach like limiting capacity in bar settings or setting earlier closing times could be in his next round of steps aimed at combating COVID-19.
Walz said Minnesotans ages 18 to 35 years of age were reported to have spread the illness without symptoms. And he said he planned to explain on Tuesday, Nov. 10, a next round of limitations on places where those people tend to gather.
"It makes sense to us to target those much more surgically, much more aggressively than a statewide stay-at-home order because at this point in time, we’ve learned that we can do retail, we can do education, some of it in-person if we’re able to test, contain and contact-trace those folks to get it isolated,” Walz said. "We are prepared to take some steps."
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported that 117 bar and restaurant establishments had been investigated for suspected patron transmission of the illness and met the outbreak threshold. And 2,406 cases stemmed from those locations between June and October.
Weddings performed between June and October were believed to have spurred 96 outbreaks, including 851 COVID-19 cases, according to the department. Outbreaks were tracked back to 44 weddings that took place in October.
The news comes after Minnesota for days has seen new cases of COVID-19 surge and deaths from the illness continue to climb. The Department of Health on Monday reported that 3,930 people had tested positive for the disease and 19 more Minnesotans died from COVID-19 and its complications.
On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 and 8, more than 10,000 more Minnesotans were confirmed to have the illness and more Minnesotans required hospital care, shrinking available hospital bed and ICU capacity around the state.
“These rates of growth are truly chilling," Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “The bottom line here is this is exponential growth, we are now seeing the rate of growth that we had predicted and feared and it’s affecting every county. Every single county in Minnesota now is seeing growth.”
State health officials called on those with symptoms as well as people 18 to 35 years old without symptoms to seek out a test. And they encouraged Minnesotans to keep up social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene practices as well as limiting large gatherings.
Walz also suggested that the state could seek to limit social gatherings as weddings, funerals, graduation parties and even smaller backyard gatherings had also been connected to clusters of COVID-19 cases.
The governor and Malcolm said they were also weeks away from implementing cellphone application software that would connect the state's testing strategy and contact tracing, allowing a person who tests positive for the illness to notify those who'd recently been within 6 feet of them for more than 15 minutes. European countries have used similar software to help get those potentially exposed to the illness into testing for COVID-19.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that people who spend 15 minutes or more within six feet of an infected person are at a higher risk of having contracted the illness.
Walz said the notification would be optional and wouldn't disclose the identity of the person confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.
"If we really want to tackle this, this is the capacity that we will have and that will add to it," Walz said.
State lawmakers late this week will again weigh in on Walz's capacity to set in place restrictions on bars, restaurants and social gatherings and to make other changes as they are expected to return for another special legislative session. Walz is expected to call for another 30-day extension of the state's peacetime emergency to respond to the pandemic and the Legislature could block that request.
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