Walz: COVID-19 guidance for Christmas likely to be similar to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving featured a ban on social gatherings with non-household members.
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Gov. Tim Walz

Celebrating Christmas with family members outside of your immediate household will likely be against state health guidance in Minnesota as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. 

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday said no formal decisions have been made, but the COVID-19 guidance for the next major holiday is likely going to mimic the guidance for Thanksgiving, which included a statewide ban on social gatherings with people you don't live with. 

"I'm not going to surprise anybody. I think the guidance around Thanksgiving is going to be very similar around Christmas," Walz said. "I would assume that there would be little reason for me to believe that there's going to be a dramatic change to the trajectory and the virus spread in the next...little less than four weeks." 

Walz said he and state health officials will analyze what they learned from this past Thanksgiving weekend, where he said the anecdotal evidence suggests Minnesotans did a decent job of staying home. 

"There's some data on movement, especially the airport, that shows there was a lot of movement," the governor noted. "We'll start to understand exactly what that meant. We'll see where we're at." 

Walz said guidance for Christmas, while it will likely be similar to Thanksgiving, could be influenced by an uptick in cases linked to Thanksgiving gatherings. 

"We are expecting to see the impact on cases starting as early as a week from now but more likely in the two- to three-week time period," said Minnesota Dept. of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "For those who did gather, we would obviously urge people to keep close track of their symptoms and consider getting a test 5-7 days after you had that gathering."

What's more is that Malcolm expects pressure on hospitals to continue building in the coming weeks, though she offered a signal of optimism by saying she doesn't believe Minnesota's healthcare system will reach a "breaking point." 

"It's not like they are ever going to run out of enough capacity to deal with the most urgent cases, but it's going to come at the cost of longer waits, more deferrals, more people needing to be moved to hospitals further away from home. All things we want to avoid," Malcolm said. 

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Through Nov. 29, there was a record 1,840 people with COVID-19 hospitalized around Minnesota, including 392 in intensive care. 

Perhaps the biggest question is whether a spike in cases in the coming weeks will bring an extension to Walz's executive order that is due to expire Dec. 18. The order bans all social gatherings with non-household members and has closed gyms and some places of entertainment while also banning dine-in service at bars and restaurants. 

Despite the order banning intrafamily get-togethers for Thanksgiving, Walz said it would be unlikely for law enforcement to intervene, leaving the order up to Minnesotans to follow. 

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