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Walz orders people to stay home

MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday ordered Minnesota residents to stay at home for two weeks except for essential needs in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent the coronavirus from overwhelming the state’s health care system.

The governor’s “stay-at-home” order begins at midnight Friday and runs through April 10. He said the restrictions were critical to allow the state to protect its most vulnerable people and give time to build up the state’s capacity to handle a flood of infections.

“I’m asking for your patience, your cooperation and your understanding,” Walz said in a live video message. “My pledge to you is to use the valuable time you’re giving us.”

About 78% of Minnesota jobs qualify as essential, and those employees and can still go to work. Everyone will still be allowed to go out for essential needs and exercise. Grocery stores, gas stations, liquor stores, child care facilities, news organizations, banks, hardware stores and post offices may remain open. While the governor extended his earlier order closing bars, restaurants and other places of public amusement to May 1, restaurants may continue to offer takeout and delivery service. Public schools, which are closed, will implement distance learning plans beginning Monday

Walz had held off on issuing the order because he wanted to see data and modeling on whether it would make enough of a difference to justify the disruptions. That modeling showed that increasing residents’ social distancing would push the peak of the pandemic in the state back to 14 weeks instead of nine, and delay the peak load on intensive care units from six weeks to 11 weeks.

While the modeling projected that 74,000 Minnesota residents could die if the state did nothing, Walz refused to say on a conference call with reporters what the modeling says about how many people may still die under the new restrictions. But he said there should be a “drastic reduction.”

Minnesota has just 235 adult ICU beds at the moment. Walz said the order will buy time to transform arenas and stadiums into hospitals, stockpile ventilators and build up ICU capacity.

More details on what will be open and closed and what services are deemed essential is available on the internet at mn.gov/stayhomemn. Authorities plan to educate violators, not arrest them, the governor said.

“Minnesotans, we’re in this together. I’m asking you to buckle up for a few more weeks here,” Walz said in his address.

Several other states and countries have issued similar orders to keep people at home as much as possible and close all nonessential businesses. Most states that have imposed such restrictions have allowed people out to go to supermarkets, pharmacies and doctors, or outside for exercise. They’ve also made exceptions for workers deemed essential.

The state’s count of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 287 on Wednesday, up 25 from a day earlier.

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