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Minnesota governor Walz calls for ‘goal line stand’ against coronavirus spread

Associated Press

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FILE - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, right, listens to Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, during a news conference in St. Paul, Minn., May 27, 2020. (John Autey/Pioneer Press via AP, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz and health officials delivered a stark warning Monday that Minnesota’s fight against the coronavirus is at a critical stage and that residents need to step up their compliance with masking, social distancing and avoiding crowds if the state is going to avoid the rapid spread that has made the upper Midwest one of the country’s worst hotspots for COVID-19.

“This is a goal line stand, Minnesota,” the Democratic governor who is a former high school football coach, said in a briefing for reporters after meeting with White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Deborah Birx in Rochester over the weekend.

“She couldn’t have been clearer — the upper Midwest is at a critical juncture,” he said. “Her assessment was that the state of Minnesota and potentially the state of Illinois still possess the capacity to stop what’s happening in surrounding states. .. She was clear that widespread testing, especially amongst asymptomatic people, is the key.”

But Walz said he didn’t plan to roll back any of Minnesota’s limited reopening moves. He added it would be much less painful if Minnesota residents would just use tools already in place such as following the indoor mask mandate in public places, practicing social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. Walz said he’s not planning to close schools or businesses such as bars and restaurants.

The governor also noted that he was “deeply disappointment” to learn of the poor compliance with masking and social distancing guidelines at Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign rally in Hibbing on Monday. He said his administration had received assurances from the Trump campaign that it would follow the rules. According to a health department tally, 24 coronavirus cases have been reported among people who attended other recent Trump campaign events in Minnesota, plus four among protesters outside Trump’s Bemidji rally and one who attended a event for Joe Biden.

The department reported 1,578 new confirmed or probable cases and four new deaths Monday to raise the state’s total case count to 135,372 and its death toll to 2,353.

Western Minnesota is seeing the state’s highest case growth and hospitalization rates, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. Part of that is spillover from the Dakotas, she said, but she also cited resistance there to following public health guidance.

Community spread accounts for 78% of cases since Oct. 1, Malcolm said. Social gatherings of all sizes, including weddings and funerals, are the biggest contributors, she added. Minnesota has had more than 70 wedding-related outbreaks since June, she said, which have led to more than 650 direct infections. As those cases spread to more people, she added, the cumulative total would grow much higher and reach into workplaces, health care facilities and schools.

Despite prevention efforts that include distance learning, the commissioner said 27% of Minnesota’s K-12 schools have had at least one case since classes started this fall. Thirty-three schools have had five or more cases, she said, and at least 26 of them were middle or high schools.

Given the risk from small social and family gatherings, people should be cautious about close interaction with even a few people from outside their immediate households, said the department’s infectious disease director, Kris Ehresmann. Too many of those who gamble that their COVID-19 case will be mild are losing that bet, she added.

“Somewhere in the chain of transmission that you start, or you keep going with your case, there will be someone who has a serious, lengthy illness or even dies,” Ehresmann said. “If you don’t worry for yourself, worry for them.”

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