Posted at 9:20 a.m. Last updated at 3:15 p.m.
This article will be updated throughout the day as more information becomes available.
Featured photo: Dr. David Wilcox, Sanford Health Bemidji’s Chief Medical Officer, briefed media on local COVID-19 response on Friday, March 13.
Governor Tim Walz joined the Minnesota Department of Health in a press conference this afternoon. The conference was live streamed on the Governor’s Facebook page. He did not issue a “shelter-in-place” order, as earlier reports indicated he might.
“At this point in time, I’m not ready to make that [decision],” he said in the press conference. “If it becomes necessary to flatten the curve, it’s an option.”
“It certainly needs to be predicated on the best science, extrapolate data from other states, to determine if that’s the time,” referring to a decision of that magnitude.
Instead, he stressed the importance of the message of staying home, practicing “common sense” like washing hands frequently and not coughing on people.
At 11 a.m. this morning, MDH announced there 115 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the state, 26 more than yesterday. Over 3,800 tests have been administered, according to the situation update website. Yesterday, there were 19 of Minnesota’s 87 counties with known cases. Today, there are 21 counties with known COVID-19 cases. Previous reports indicate several cases were known to have been exposed through community transmission.
Globally, at latest report, there are over 246,000 cases of COVID-19, with 14,000 deaths. In the United States, there are 14,000 cases, with 205 deaths as of this morning.
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development says there have been over 95,000 applicants to unemployment insurance since Monday, and that 85 percent of them have never applied for the program before. One third of these applicants are from workers in the restaurant, bar and entertainment industry.
Beltrami County Environmental Services director urges people who find themselves having to use alternative paper products as bath tissue to not flush these products down the toilet.
- The Paul Bunyan Mall will close today, Friday, March 20, at 3 p.m. and plans to tentatively open on Friday, March 27.
- Great River Rescue’s annual “Furr Bowl” fundraiser , previously scheduled for Sunday, April 19, will continue as an online fundraiser. Go to their website to find more information.
- Bemidji Dairy Queen is closing after 3 p.m. today, March 20, until further notice at the Paul Bunyan Mall. “We will be working hard to get the Lakeside location going,” they said on their Facebook page.
- Seven Clans Casinos, of Red Lake Gaming, will voluntarily suspend operations until April 2. They closed their doors yesterday at 4 p.m. Any hotel reservations through April 1 will be cancelled and refunded.
Beltrami County is limiting in-person contact
Health and Human Services will remain open during the normal business hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., however, the public is encouraged to utilize email, fax, phone, and drop boxes when appropriate. Please call the office prior to visiting at (218) 333-8300.
In response to COVID-19, Beltrami County Income Maintenance, Employment Services and Child Support offices are limiting in-person contact. The office remains open to the public, however, they are practicing social distancing and limiting contact when possible per the direction of the CDC and the MN Department of Health.
The Economic Assistance Division asks that you utilize online resources if possible to apply for public assistance programs:
Cash, SNAP, and Emergency Programs: www.applymn.dhs.mn.gov
Health Care: www.MNsure.org
If online resources are unavailable please call the office at (218) 333-8300 to request an application be mailed to you. Paper applications are available outside the lobby area and it is requested you drop the application, or any other county program documents, in the available drop box. At this time phone interviews for public assistance programs are being offered in lieu of face-to-face interviews.
To avoid in-person contact, the Veteran’s Services office is conducting business as usual by phone and/or mail only. The office is currently closed to the public. Appointments will be held over the phone and are still being scheduled. Please call to schedule an appointment (218) 333-4178.
Family Health will continue to offer all WIC services with a phone conversation rather than an in-person appointment. WIC staff will call participants at the time of appointment, verify any necessary information, and then do nutrition education over the phone. The office requests participants have their WIC cards available to verify their household ID. Family Home visiting staff is working with clients to transition all visits to telephone or web-based visits. Immunizations are still offered on Mondays. Family Health can be reached at (218) 333-8140.
Many other departments, including the license center, are encouraging similar measures. Find out contact information at the county’s website.
CLEARWATER COUNTY BUILDINGS TO LIMIT ACCESS
The Clearwater County Board of Commissioners issued an emergency declaration during their meeting today, March 20, and through consultation with Clearwater Public Health and Emergency Management, will limit access to all public buildings at 8 a.m. Monday, March 23, until further notice.
Exterior doors will be locked at all county facilities, the courthouse will be open only for essential business but solid waste will continue essential operations.
Services and operations will continue to be provided through phone, email and by appointment, if deemed necessary. Clearwater citizens should call prior to visiting any county facility. For more information view the Clearwater County website.
WHITE EARTH ANNOUNCES SHUT DOWNS
The White Earth Reservation Business Council voted today on a resolution to temporarily close all non-essential services from Monday, March 23 to April 3. Essential, life-saving services will continue.
The Shooting Star Casinos, following suit with other Minnesota Tribes, will temporarily close their casinos until at least Wednesday, April 1, conditions allowing.
For more information from White Earth, visit their website.
STATE EXECUTIVE ORDERS
Gov. Walz issued a series of executive orders in the last week:
March 20: Gov Walz signed three executive orders today:
- Executive Order 20-10 prohibits price gouging during the peacetime emergency, responding to reports of essential goods necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the public being sold at excessive and prohibitive prices. This prohibition takes effect on Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. Individuals found to be in violation are subject to investigation and enforcement by the Attorney General’s office. This executive order brings Minnesota, which does not have a statute on price gouging, in line with most other states in the United States. Minnesotans can report instances of price gouging by calling 651-296-3353 or 800-657-3787. Callers can ask for a translator at these numbers as well. Complaints can be made online at www.ag.state.mn.us/office/complaint.asp.
- Executive Order 20-11 authorizes the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) to seek federal authority to temporarily waive or modify certain requirements for federal programs, including but not limited to the Minnesota Family Investment Program, Medical Assistance, and MinnesotaCare, to ensure these programs continue providing necessary support to Minnesota families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Executive Order 20-12 allows DHS to temporarily issue waivers or modifications to state requirements to ensure that their services can be delivered to Minnesotans safely and without undue delay, protecting vulnerable Minnesotans and those who care for them. DHS provides health care coverage, programs, and services for over 1 million Minnesotans, including groups likely to be significantly impacted by COVID-19 such as older adults, individuals who have disabilities, families with children, and individuals with mental illness.
March 18: Gov. Walz took action to support businesses affected by COVID-19 by announcing a 30-day Sales and Use Tax grace period for businesses identified in Executive Order 20-04.
He also signed Executive Order 20-08 clarifying the types of businesses and places of public accommodation subject to closure per Executive Order 20-04. The executive order clarifies that the closure order applies to salons, barbershops, and other similar establishments.
March 17: Signed Executive Order 20-07 providing paid leave for state employees who are not able to work for reasons related to COVID-19 and suspended the waiting period for insurance coverage for new employees.
Also signed Executive Order 20-06 to exempt vehicles and drivers providing direct assistance for emergency relief efforts in response to COVID-19 from certain regulations including provisions on weight and hours of service.
He signed Ch. 70 S.F. 4334 into law, allocating $200 million toward an emergency and long-term grant program to respond to the needs of health care and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 16: Signed Executive Order 20-05 to strengthen Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and ensure that workers who are not able to work as a result of COVID-19 have benefits available. Specifically, this Executive Order waives the employer surcharge and allows the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to pay unemployment benefits immediately, providing fast relief to employees who need it.
Executive Order 20-04 was also signed March 16 to order the temporary closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars to dine-in customers. He also ordered the temporary closure of other places of public accommodation and amusement, including theaters, museums, fitness centers, and community clubs.
Executive Order 20-03 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota’s Veterans Homes. This executive order allows Veterans Homes to protect residents and staff by temporarily restricting visitors, reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread among residents.
March 15: Gov. Walz signed Executive Order 20-02 authorizing the temporary closure of Minnesota K-12 public schools to students in order for school administrators and teachers to make long-term plans for the continuity of education and essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 13: Gov. Walz issued Executive Order 20-01 declaring a peacetime emergency in Minnesota and unveiled legislative proposals to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic.
STATE AGENCY UPDATES
Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea has issued Continuing Operations of the Court of the State of Minnesota under a Statewide Peacetime Declaration of Emergency. The order restricts access to courthouses for only vital, designated case types, and opens up additional opportunities for remote hearings that must occur during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order goes into effect on Monday, March 23, 2020, and is in effect for the next 30 days or until another order is issued, whichever comes first.