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Walz: Minnesota may need to shelter in place; cases hit 115

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz said Friday that he might have to follow California’s lead at some point and order residents to shelter in place to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases in the state soared above 100.

“I certainly think it is a possibility,” Walz said in an interview on WCCO Radio on Friday morning, adding that outside experts and state officials are working to determine what steps for “mitigation and suppression” are needed in Minnesota. “We have to have every tool in the toolbox.”

The state’s total of confirmed cases jumped to 115 on Friday, up 26 from 89 on Thursday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Gov. Tim Walz

But the confirmed cases figure just represents “the tip of the iceberg” because not everyone who gets sick can be tested due to restrictions the state imposed earlier this week to cope with the national shortage of testing supplies, Kris Ehresmann, the department’s infectious disease director, said Thursday. The real total is likely much higher and the disease is probably spreading throughout the state, she said.

Walz was scheduled to participate in the department’s daily briefing for reporters Friday afternoon.

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.

Walz said legislative leaders have been “fantastic” about keeping in close communications with his office while they’re on hiatus due to the outbreak. They’re seeing the data he sees “almost in real time” and he’s listening to their guidance, he said. He said he knew that legislators were considering reconvening at a larger venue than the Capitol, such as the RiverCentre convention center, so they could spread out more to reduce the risks of close contact.

“This is our new normal, at least for the coming weeks and potentially months, and and we need to make sure that the Legislature’s voice is being heard, that people’s democracy is still functioning,” he said.

One issue lawmakers will have to contend with is that the state’s budget surplus is effectively gone and the state could end up in a deficit because of recessionary pressures, he said. The next economic update from Minnesota Management and Budget is due April 10.

Minnesota has about 13,000 National Guard members available, said Walz, a retired Army National Guard member. They could help out with prison security, delivering priority goods such as food, and backing up first responders such as police, firefighters and paramedics, he said.

Walz noted that he serves on a council of governors that has asked President Donald Trump to keep Guard units under the control of governors while the federal government pays the costs.

The governor also thanked Minnesotans for their patience, kindness and perseverance.

“I recognize that this has been an incredibly hard week,” he said. “This has probably been one of the most confusing and disruptive weeks that many Minnesotans have ever seen.”