ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Walz on Saturday, May 23, pushed back on the distress aired over his recent timetable allowing the reopening of restaurants on June 1 limited to 50 persons and outdoor seating only.
"It surprises me a little," Walz said during an afternoon press conference. "But I think we all have expectations, and I think the expectations were relatively high by bars and restaurants. . . . I don't think it should have been totally out of the realm that we were still concerned, if they were watching what we were saying about the curve going up."
While repeating his awareness of the financial hardship faced by the industry, which has experienced numerous closures, with some closing for good, Walz pivoted to his duty to support both economic activity and public safety.
"It seems like so many times I see this, where folks say 'I want to open up the restaurants, I support doing that,'” he said. “Well if you don't want to take the other side of the ledger, that's an easy one to argue. The problem we got right now is we are peaking with this (outbreak)."
Walz said the requirement that diners make reservations was in support of the need to track cases within a restaurant if an outbreak occurs. "We have got to do contact tracing," he said. "This massive moonshot is totally useless if we can't contact trace and isolate."
Walz voiced his support for the decision made Thursday by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to require masks in all public accommodations, citing the city's "higher concentration of cases." He said "those who disregard public health guidance aren't just making a personal statement, they're endangering their family and their neighbors." The governor called out pockets of opposition among officeholders as well.
"The thing that frustrates me is when I see elected leaders stand around places celebrating and demanding they be open," he said. "They're not with me when I have to go open the new morgue. They're not with me when I have to see the rates that are going up. They're not with me when I ask them to help get money to places...I have no illusion that people are pretty darn mad. My hope is they understand why were doing it."
Walz appealed to elected officials now advocating for small businesses to follow the lead of other nations that have continued to provide assistance to workers and small businesses during economic restrictions.
"If I'm going to ask folks to stay home, I need to help them,” he said. “I think we could ease some of this tension if we could help more on the stimulus side. I would ask that the Legislature help us finish business grants and the bonding bill while cities are waiting to get federal money."
Walz said he was asked by lawmakers early in the crisis not to utilize his executive power for financial assistance and has respected that request.
By the numbers
The state of Minnesota recorded 847 more cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the highest one-day case count yet. The new cases included a continuation of unexplained spikes in rural counties. "We have some of the most rapid increases in our counties around the country," state commissioner of health Jan Malcolm said at the briefing.
Stearns County, home to a widely noted outbreak at two processing plants two weeks ago, added 38 cases. Mower County has more than doubled its case count in the last week, from 54 to 138. Todd County has quadrupled in case totals over the past seven day, from 46 to 183 cases. Hubbard County had its first case recorded on Saturday, leaving just three counties without recorded cases, Cook, Lake of the Woods and Stevens.
The new cases bring the state total to 19, 845, just 55 cases to the 20,000 mark.
Also, the state recorded 10 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the statewide death total from the illness to 852. The new deaths were recorded in Ramsey, Clay and Cass counties (one each), with two deaths in Anoka County and five in Hennepin County.
Eight of the deaths occurred among residents of long-term care, and one of a resident in a group home.
The state reported 8,522 tests on Saturday, and has now tested 189,493 residents. Health officials have stressed that test materials are now widely available, as are test sites, and that all persons with symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to seek testing.
"Six armory sites around the state are very busy (offering free, walk-up testing) today," Malcolm said. "I am glad to see that. I know people are waiting in line to be tested at these sites and there's an awful lot of demand. We are also learning more about getting out in the community."
Malcolm said that the state is at a modest 10% positive case rate, but the results from Saturday’s testing initiative will provide a better look at the extent of the virus in the community.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.