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Gov Tim Walz: No 'shelter-in-place' order for Minnesota yet, but situation could change

The governor provided an update to Minnesota's coronavirus efforts on Friday.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he is not ready to introduce a "shelter-in-place" order for Minnesota in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but admitted the situation can change quickly.

California, which is dealing with a more severe COVID-19 outbreak than Minnesota at present time, on Thursday announced a "stay at home" order, which requires people to stay home unless there is a need for essential trips (to get food, healthcare) or if residents are working in an essential industry.

On Friday, Gov. Walz says Minnesota is not at the point to issue the same order, and is hoping that he it necessarily have to happen in the event that the state's current mitigation efforts begin to bear fruit in terms of "flattening the curve."

But he did say that the situation can change quickly, as has been the case in recent weeks.

"I think some people were surprised a week ago when I said we weren't prepared to close schools, and on Monday I said we were not prepared to close businesses," he said, noting how both decisions were taken just days later.

"I can tell you this point in time I'm not prepared to make that [shelter in place order], but I am prepared to make that sometime in the future."

A decision on whether a shelter-in-place order will be issued will depend on the modeling the state is working on.

While the lack of testing kits has hampered the state's ability to track how widespread the disease is, health officials are working on various models that can estimate how many cases the state could be dealing with if they don't continue mitigation and suppression tactics. 

This modeling will give Minnesota a "better picture" of when this decision should be made, with Walz noting that he has been speaking with businesses concerned about the prospect of a wider shutdown.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it'll take time to provide Minnesota-specific modeling for the public to see, although Walz has urged that modeling is provided to him by the end of the weekend. 

Walz also said that he's considering mandating that all Minnesota malls close, with several still open in the Twin Cities despite many retailers shutting their doors.

Minnesota currently has 115 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a figure which rose from 89 on Thursday. Of those, it was announced Friday afternoon that two patients are in intensive care.

Gov. Walz said that the increase in COVID-19 testing seen on Thursday followed help from some private health partners including Mayo Clinic, which was able to reduce the backlog in samples from 1,700 to 1,291.

Tackling the testing, PPE 'logjam'

There have been constant concerns about the availability of COVID-19 testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and scrubs for the state's healthcare workers, amid a nationwide shortage.

Gov. Walz said he expressed concern along with his 49 fellow governors on a call with President Trump about the availability of testing supplies, and said the president "made it clear that the federal government are not shipping clerks."

As a result, Gov. Walz says his office is looking to levy the talents of Minnesota's own companies to address the supply issue, citing local companies like Digikey in Thief River Falls, which is assisting with shipping and logistics, Anderson Fabrics Outlet and Quilt Shop, which is trying to manufacture scrubs, and the Mall of America, which could potentially provide space to handle emergencies.

Private healthcare providers such as the Mayo and others have also been helping with some of the demand for testing.

Walz has asked the state's health providers to do an inventory to figure out a picture of the "burn rate."

"We want to know exactly when a hospital or a health care system is going to run out of that gear," he said, while his Homeland Security Director Joe Kelly said the state is "trying to go out in the supply chain and buy more," but admitted "that's a challenge right now."

There is hope however now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now the lead agency responding to the crisis, which Walz says "simplifies the process," saying the state has worked well with FEMA in the past on emergencies such as statewide flooding.

"We are hopeful that this will break logjam around PPE," Walz said. 

He also backed President Trump's decision to activate the Defense Production Act, which allows privately held factories to be taken over by the government for the coronavirus effort, but says that while it "should give us some relief," the state can't afford wait, hence it is trying to source its own equipment.

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