Wednesday will be a key day for Minnesota in the evolving battle against the novel coronavirus, as Gov. Tim Walz will extend and modify the stay-at-home order that is set to expire this Friday at 5 p.m.
Walz said Tuesday that he'll have much more information to share Wednesday, in addition to possibly unveiling new information from a Minnesota-specific COVID-19 model developed by the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota.
"I'll make a determination – I think it's already pretty clear – we will continue with our stay-at-home order but using the data to refine that in a way that makes sense," Walz said. "The federal government and everyone else is looking into the first part of May and our data, as it starts to show ... our peak has been pushed out some."
When the peak of the outbreak will hit Minnesota remains a mystery, but Walz may be able to provide more concrete estimates for that during his Wednesday address. Health department Commissioner Jan Malcolm has consistently said that the original forecast for the peak of the epidemic in Minnesota could land sometime between mid-May and mid-June.
An extension of the stay-at-home order into May would mean Minnesotans are still expected to stay home when possible and to be diligent about social distancing when outside for fresh air or in the grocery store for essential needs.
Walz previews stay-at-home order extension
"I want to start talking to Minnesotans about that and what I'm going to ask of them to do. We're not going to give up on the things that are working, but I think we can add more things that work," said Walz. "That might be a changing list of things that we're able to add in, and having to adjust so that we don't strain that [healthcare] system.
It could mean more people are allowed to return to work so long as social distancing can be maintained.
"We will continue to do al lot of the things that we are doing that are making a difference, but with a road map and a set of directions that I think will allow us to start to move in a refined manner, and that will be ever-moving," the governor said.
"It's not like we're putting it in place tomorrow and that's it, nothing else will happen. It's going to be a hard look at 'these things have worked really well and we think the data shows we can make some other things work really well.'"
Walz hinted that some of the new model data shows that Minnesota COVID-19 patients have had shorter hospital stays and fewer fatalities than the first iteration of the model forecast at this point of the outbreak, but some concerning data too, including a higher transmission rate from one infected person to multiple others.
Peak still coming
Despite all of the encouraging news, Commissioner Malcolm warned that surge in cases will come.
"We continue to prepare for and expect that we are still on the early end of our curve, and while I'm personally really gratified to see the growth rate staying kind of in a stable zone, I know that could change any day and we're likely to see much more rapid increases over the next few weeks," said Malcolm.
The goals for Walz remain the same: bend the curve, stockpile critical care equipment and do everything possible to keep Minnesota's healthcare facilities from being overwhelmed when the peak of the outbreak arrives.
"We bend the curve. We build up our supply. We get ready for that fight. We continue to isolate those that need to be the most isolated. We ramp up testing – both on antibody testing and rapid testing – and we get as many people back into the workforce in an orderly manner as we can," he said.
Walz has routinely briefed the media at 2 p.m. each day, but a set time for Wednesday's address has not yet been established.