Stricter social distancing isn't a lockdown, but is meant to further reduce social interactions among Minnesotans.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz at his Wednesday afternoon statewide coronavirus briefing announced that a statewide “stay at home” executive order will take effect on Friday night, March 27 at midnight and continue  for two weeks, until Friday, April 10.

 

Minnesota joins around a half-dozen other states with similar directives in place.

 

In his remarks streamed on Facebook by Walz, who is currently self-quarantining due to exposure to a staff member with COVID-19, the governor also announced that his executive order eight days ago closing bars and restaurants will continue as of now until May 1 at 5 p.m. In addition, Walz said the statewide school closure will continue and that school districts will implement a distance-learning curriculum on Monday, March 30 and that schools will remain closed until May 4.

 

“I’m asking for your patience, cooperation and understanding,” the governor said. “I know how painful this is.” 

 

Walz called Wednesday’s executive order “smart mitigation.”

 

A “stay at home” directive is not a lockdown; it is a stricter level of social distancing that strongly encourages people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. But it doesn’t mean that people can’t go to the grocery store or the gas station, or to the hospital or clinic, and it doesn’t mean they can’t go jogging outside or walk their dog. The idea is to further reduce people traffic and movement outside their homes and further restrict people from gathering in groups. Walz said people need to simply avoid gathering in groups if they’re doing things like getting groceries or going for a walk.

 

Wednesday’s action is based on the “best science on social distancing, while allowing you to live a life,” Walz said. “You can go to the doctor, but be smart about outdoor activities…don’t congregate together. If you walk or run, stay away from each other. The grocery store, the gas station are still permitted. We’re asking you. This does not mean don’t step out of your house. But it does mean we’re getting more restrictive to get us to the 80% (reduction in social interactions compared to no mitigation) that bends curve to the right.”

 

In addition to grocery stores and gas stations and other essential businesses being allowed to remain open, liquor stores will remain open as well. 

 

The two-week stay-at-home directive isn’t necessarily about reducing the number of Minnesotans who will be infected with coronavirus, the governor stressed numerous times during his Wednesday remarks. Instead, citing models developed by the Minnesota Department of Health in partnership with the University of Minneosta, Walz said the movement toward stricter social distancing is to “buy time” for Minnesota to ramp up its ICU (intensive care unit) capacity to be better prepared for the coming peak of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and to give Minnesota manufacturers more time to produce more ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers and others who as part of their work are at risk of being exposed to those who are infected. With no additional mitigation efforts, Walz said Minnesota’s ICU capacity, according to the models as of today, stand to be overwhelmed by those infected with COVID-19 requiring that level of hospital care. 

 

If the two-week stay-at-home order has its desired effect, Walz said the plan would be to scale back to less extreme social distancing measures for a three-week period beyond April 10.

 

Walz said Minnesota’s social distancing efforts appear to be the most successful in the nation at this stage. Social distancing in the state to date has reduced social interactions by 50%, he said, adding that the goal is for two weeks under a “stay at home” scenario will reduce social interactions in the state by an additional 30%, or an 80% reduction.

 

“It’s an unprecedented challenge for us, but I truly believe Minnesotans have risen to the occasion and we’ve slowed it,” Walz said. “But make no mistake, slowing it is not going to stop it. This is a human issue with mathematics driving it.

 

“We’re asking for you to buckle up for a few more weeks here, so our manufacturers can step it up,” the governor continued.