MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that he plans to announce new restrictions that target active spreaders of COVID-19 in an effort to bring the coronavirus under control as cases have surged to dangerous levels in recent weeks. Meanwhile, he also intends to extend the state’s peacetime emergency on Thursday.
Walz plans to unveil at least some of his restrictions Tuesday at 2 p.m., hinting that they would be more “surgically, much more aggressively” targeted than the 51-day stay-at-home order from the spring.
Sources told WCCO Monday night that restrictions will include closing bars and restaurants by 10 p.m., as well as restrictions on weddings and other group gatherings.
The governor made it clear Monday strong restrictions will be aimed at places and events frequented by younger people — 18 to 35 year olds — who he says are a major source of the spread.
“At this point in time, we’ve learned we can do retail, we can do education, some of it in person, if we’re able to test, contain and contact trace those folks to get [their infections] isolated,” he said.
Minnesota Department of Health data shows outbreaks in restaurants and bars are up dramatically in October and the first five days in November. Sixty-five outbreaks were traced to bars and restaurants, compared to 30 outbreaks in all of August and September.
Since June 10, when indoor dining resumed in Minnesota, MDH says there were 117 outbreaks at bars and restaurants, with at least 2,400 confirmed cases connected to those outbreaks. That’s just under 2% of all cases since then.
“Infection rates increase after a set time in the evening … before 10 o’clock we seem to see,” Walz said.
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Mike Mulrooney is the owner of Blarney Pub in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota’s east bank campus in Minneapolis.
“We’re already in the red, and we’re currently operating in the red,” Mulrooney said.
He says his business has followed the current restrictions on capacity and social distancing, and has not been cited for violating state guidelines. That’s why he feels further restrictions, such as closing earlier, would be unfair.
“We have some control in the bars and restaurants, and we can observe behavior and correct behavior as we’ve done. Whereas if they’re out at a house party or in their house or in their apartment gathering together in large groups, that isn’t under control,” Mulrooney said. “We have to make this more fair all along or all around, as opposed to just a targeted approach.”
New plans to combat community spread also include mobile device tracking that would alert people when they have been exposed to the virus, the Star Tribune reported.
In addition to restrictions, Walz announced he will be convening a special session of the Minnesota Legislature Thursday where he intends to extend the state’s COVID-19 peacetime emergency by another 30 days.
“This is a dangerous phase of this pandemic. We’re in the midst of a surge in case positivity and hospitalizations,” Walz said. “Extending the Peacetime Emergency will help ensure we have the tools we need to respond quickly to protect Minnesotans’ health and well-being.”
The governor mentioned that the politics of the election wouldn’t allow him to do more last week.
Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said Monday that the state is adding more than a dozen free COVID-19 testing sites around the state over the next two weeks. Testing at the sites will be free and available to anyone, whether symptomatic or not. A saliva testing site opened Monday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and another saliva testing site will open Thursday at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
MORE: COVID-19 Testing Locations (MDH)
An additional 11 sites will open next Monday at National Guard armories statewide. Those sites, operated by the Minnesota National Guard in partnership with local public health staff, will offer a mix of saliva and nasal swab tests and will stay open through at least the end of the year.
“Over the last week, Minnesotans saw our COVID-19 positivity rate climb higher than ever before. We have entered a dangerous phase of this pandemic, and our testing strategy is key to controlling the spread,” Walz said in a statement. “So many people are spreading the virus before they know they have it … today’s announcement brings us closer to getting the virus under control.”
Health officials say increased testing is needed to help people find out if they have COVID-19 and to help the department track, trace and find asymptomatic people to prevent more spreading.
“The rate of case growth we are seeing is very concerning. Ultimately, our goal is to get out there, do as much testing as we can — with case investigation, contact tracing, and the necessary isolation — to stop this disease from spreading,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.
Tom Weaver is one person who took a saliva test. He told KSTP-TV that it was quick and easy.
“It’s just a peace of mind kind of thing,” Weaver said. “You can go about your life letting people know, that way everybody is in the know, the best information is available, and they can make decisions appropriately.”
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 3,930 new cases on Monday, lower than the single-day record of 5,924 set just a day earlier. The update lifted the total number of cases in Minnesota to 184,788 since the start of the pandemic.
Health officials confirmed additional 19 deaths Monday, for a total number of 2,675 fatalities.
Walz said he is grateful for the partnerships that made the expanded testing possible.
“We need all Minnesotans to come together and remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 as we prepare for a long winter ahead,” he said.
The governor also indicated that restrictions on social and public gatherings will be tightened. MDH numbers show they are a growing source of outbreaks, with weddings leading the list.
In June through October, 96 wedding outbreaks lead to 851 cases. Almost half of those wedding outbreaks were in October alone.
Right now, restrictions on personal gatherings are for 10 inside and 25 outside, and for public events its 25% capacity with a limit of 250 people.’
Liz Rammer, president of Hospitality Minnesota, tells WCCO that, “restaurants and bars are affiliated with only 2%” of COVID cases, and should not be unfairly singled out.”
According to the state’s Dial Back Dashboard, the state’s seven-day rolling average positivity rate is at 10% as of Oct. 28, due to data lag. That compares to 5% in early October. It’s one of the health indicators being used to inform the state’s safety restrictions during COVID-19.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)