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Minnesota Gov.: Social distancing helping; lawmakers to meet Thursday



MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Early indications are that Minnesotans are practicing social distancing well enough that they may be helping to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday as he staked out a position between a president who wants to restart the economy by Easter and other governors who’ve already ordered their residents to shelter in place for what could be weeks.

Walz said on a conference call with reporters that he’s still waiting for more data on when the number of cases will peak in Minnesota and when intensive care beds will reach capacity. Experts at the University of Minnesota have been working to model those scenarios, and he said the work suggests that “there may be smarter and a more targeted way” to respond.

“But there is no doubt that this is going to take some time” for the virus to run its course and for the economy to recover, he said. “It’s going to be well beyond Easter, and I don’t think it does us any good to pretend that it’s not.”

The governor said he would hope that the president’s decisions are driven by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, rather than his top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow as he balances health and economic concerns. He also said he hopes Trump uses his power under the Defense Production Act to crank out personal protective equipment and ventilators and ramp up testing.

“The federal government could really, really help us by using their power to ramp up production and let us do the social things in each area,” he said. “Some areas might need, like New York City, a full shelter in place, no exception. Others may not if we have the capacity to build the ICU beds and we have the ability to test and isolate.”

Walz said the evidence that Minnesotans are keeping their distance and pushing back the peak dates includes cellphone data and reduced traffic in both the Twin Cities area and rural Minnesota showing that people are staying home more and venturing out less He also cited “a natural inclination to follow the rules” by residents.

“We think Minnesota is getting results that look different,” Walz said. That buys the state time to prepare, he added. “The thing that we’re striving for is, is to not let anybody show up at the hospital who needs an ICU or a ventilator not be able to get one.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover within weeks.

The Minnesota Department of Health said the state’s count of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 262 on Tuesday, an increase of 27 from Monday. Fifteen patients were hospitalized out of a total of 21 since the pandemic reached the state.. Seven patients were in intensive care, with 243 adult ICU beds available statewide. There have been no additional deaths since one reported last weekend. Officials have stressed that the real total of Minnesotans with the disease is much higher.

Legislators will return to the Capitol on Thursday to pass legislation to bolster the state’s response, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said in a joint statement late Tuesday. The chambers had been in recess since early last Tuesday, when they voted unanimously to approve $200 million to help the state’s health care system respond to the pandemic.

“We are continuing to work closely with the Walz Administration on urgent COVID-19 matters to protect the health and well-being of Minnesotans,” they said in a joint statement. “We will publicly release details on specific legislation on the House and Senate websites as soon as we can. As we convene, we will do so in accordance with guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health to keep members, staff, and the public safe.”

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