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Walz expects to extend stay-at-home through end of April



FILE - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (PHOTO: (GovTimWalz on Facebook)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country but the state must not get complacent, Gov. Walz said Monday, as he prepared to extend a stay-at-home order that he imposed nearly two weeks ago.

“Minnesota is 17 per 100,000 right now,” Walz told reporters of the state’s infection rate. “It puts us best in the country. But we’re not resting on those laurels. We’re preparing for what will come, a surge to our hospitals, a burden on those emergency rooms, and the risk to our neighbors.”

The governor said he doesn’t want people to get complacent about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that was released earlier Monday. Minnesota is testing at a higher rate than other states, but not enough to provide a true picture of the extent of the virus’ spread, he said.

Minnesota’s count of confirmed cases rose to 986, up 51 from Sunday. The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, rose by one to 30. Of the positive cases, 470 no longer need to be isolated. As of Monday, 115 patients were hospitalized, up 11 from Sunday, with 57 in intensive care, up nine from a day earlier.

Walz’s original stay-at-home order runs through Friday but he has said in recent days that he’s not ready to lift it. Walz said he hopes to announce a decision “in the next day or two,” and he indicated it will likely run through the end of April, in keeping with federal guidance, and may include some tweaks to the ground rules.

While Minnesotans have largely been very good about social distancing, he said, they’re not so good about it in parks and other recreation areas.

The Minnesota Legislature will reconvene Tuesday to pass a bill that would ensure first responders and health care workers who are infected with the coronavirus qualify for workers compensation without having to prove they were sickened on the job.

A Senate working group on the COVID-19 crisis was warned Monday that a state budget that boasted a projected $1.5 billion surplus would take an enormous hit due to the sudden drop in tax revenues, the increase in emergency spending and the surge in jobless claims. Budget Commissioner Myron Frans told the panel that the list of things he didn’t know about how big the impact would be was longer than he would like.

“We obviously know that the budget that we passed last May is not operational any more in the sense that the $1.5 billion surplus is literally not showing up,” Frans said. “Every day, less and less of that is showing up.”

While Minnesota has a little over $2.1 billion coming from the federal stimulus plan, “we just don’t know when or exactly how we can spend it,” he said. State government is expected to get $1.2 billion of that, with nearly $1 billion going to local governments. Some of that can be used to fill holes in the budget created by COVID-19 related expenses. Frans said the state hopes to get guidance from the Treasury Department by next Monday.

Also Monday, authorities announced a task force to protect Minnesotans from scams and other crimes associated with the pandemic. The Minnesota COVID-19 Action Team will be led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office has posted a complaint form on its website.

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