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Stay at Home: Are Minnesotans cutting back on social distancing?

There's been an apparent increase in activity despite the Stay at Home order.

While state leaders have thus far lauded Minnesotans' efforts in sticking to social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus, there have been signs that fewer are adhering to the rules.

The question was put to health officials during Monday's COVID-19 media briefing by the Star Tribune's Jeremy Olson, who noted car traffic stats that were 28 percent below normal this past Sunday, having been 68 percent below normal two Sundays prior.

This, combined with increasing numbers of reports and pictures showing groups of people gathered outdoors around Twin Cities parks and lakes, suggest that after around 6 weeks of partial lockdown, some Minnesotans are getting stir crazy.

The problem has been noticeable in Minneapolis, which is shutting down its playgrounds and sports courts from May 1 onwards because too many were failing to keep their distance and were breaking rules regarding playing sports with people outside their household.

A major factor in the change is the fact that spring has finally arrived and brought with it the first bout of decent weather in months, but Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that residents should be wary about breaking social distancing rules.

Gov. Tim Walz is expected to make a decision this week on whether his Stay at Home order will end on May 4 or be extended with modifications, and on Tuesday Minnesota posted its highest number of positive COVID-19 tests yet, while its death toll has just passed 300.

"We are having conversations about that and we certainly understand with the nice weather returning and people eager to get out and move around more, we know it's going to be a challenge," Malcolm said.

"But in order for us to make incremental progress forward towards the time where we can open up more businesses and open up more room for social interaction that's going to be a process," she continued, adding: "Our ability to move forward is going to hinge significantly on people continuing to really keep the Stay at Home message in the forefront and to adopt those personal behaviors that we talk about so much when we are out."

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Despite a Stay at Home order being in place since late March, the Walz Administration has loosened restrictions on more than one occasion regarding what businesses and outdoor recreation facilities are allowed to open.

On Monday, restrictions on certain non-customer-facing commercial and industrial businesses were lifted, potentially paving the way for up to 100,000 people to return to work, while golf courses and marinas have been allowed to open as spring arrived.

Nonetheless, Malcolm says that Minnesotans should continue to keep their outdoor activities confined to places near to them, so as not to potentially contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in areas with fewer resources.

"It's great to get outside and get some in the fresh air but we still need to be mindful of social distancing and if you have to go out stay close to home, getting out should be for those essential activities and for those safe encounters, safe recreation near your home," she said.

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