During Monday's COVID-19 briefing, Minnesota's governor and leading public health officials repeatedly expressed concern about the level of virus transmission around the state, noting that Minnesotans have reached a critical point where they need to adhere to the current safety measures that are already in place as to avoid dialing back.
"We continue to have these conversations. Right now, some of the things that we have in place just simply need to be adhered to like the mask mandate and social distancing amongst family members," Walz said when asked if he's considering shutting parts of the state down the way he did in the early days of the pandemic.
"We're not seeing the massive spread in retail settings, so it doesn't necessarily look like there would be a need there," Walz said. Bars and restaurants were relegated to curbside pick-up and delivery during the spring and early summer as part of Gov. Walz's stay-at-home order.
Any return of some of the business restrictions seen earlier in the summer may not be as effective, with MDH noting that "social gatherings" are driving the most recent rise in infections, and advised people re-assess their plans over the coming months,.
"Things that were relatively safe a month ago no longer are safe," said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director with the state health department.
KSTP reporter Tom Hauser said on the press call that he's "hearing reports" that Walz is considering closing schools, bars and restaurants in mid-November, but the governor immediately denied such reports.
"None of that is correct and none of those things have been discussed," Walz responded. "There has been no discussions with that specificity. We have a school opening plan that is working .... so that's not true."
Instead of dialing back, Walz and public health leaders are pushing Minnesotans to follow current safety guidelines that call for wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
"It's important that as Minnesotans we fully utilize the tools we have that are so much less painful than other options that may need to be discussed," said Ehresmann.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm referenced studies that suggest Minnesotans are slightly below the national average in terms of wearing masks.
"I usually expect Minnesotans to be above average," Walz said, noting that slowing the spread will require 95% compliance with the mask mandate. "Mask-wearing is free and it allows our businesses to stay open. We've seen it time and time again that states that decided to not do those things ended up closing anyway."
Minnesota saw 22% case growth from mid-August to mid-September, and then case growth exploded by 83% from mid-September to mid-October. All the while, the test positivity rate is rising, indicating that dramatic rises in cases are the result of more virus and community transmission rather than being a direct result of increased testing.
Wisconsin has 2,000 to 4,500 new cases all but two days since Sept. 24, with the result being strained hospitals and increasing deaths. Walz hopes Minnesotans can take control before it's too late to avoid becoming the next Wisconsin.
"That is the crystal ball of our future. We are not fortunetellers here, it's science, it's numbers," he said. "I think people need to wrap their mind around how bad it's gotten in some places and how bad it's getting."
Malcolm concluded: "We're in a very vulnerable spot right now and time is of the essence to double down on these prevention strategies."