By Steve Karnowski, AP News Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency Friday and issued a series of strong recommendations for steps Minnesotans should take to limit the spread of COVID-19, with an emphasis on people keeping their distance from each other.
The key recommendations include canceling or postponing gatherings of 250 people or more, including concerts, conferences, arts performances and sporting events; ensuring space for “social distancing” of 6 feet per person at smaller events; and limiting gatherings of people at higher risk for severe illness to no more than 10 people.
“We need Minnesotans’ help on this. … The idea that this is nothing is put to rest. This is a serious pandemic,” the governor said at a news conference. “While some people may feel invincible and strong, our neighbors are not. And I think it behooves all of us to follow these closely.”
Minnesota had 14 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon, up from nine a day earlier. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said two of those patients are hospitalized. One was seriously ill while the other was doing well, she said. Most of the cases are in the Twin Cities metro area, with single cases in Stearns and Olmsted counties.
All those cases involved people who had traveled, Malcolm said, but she acknowledged that she can’t rule out the possibility that the disease is already spreading person-to-person within the state.
The University of Minnesota said the victims include one student from the Twin Cities campus who is recovering in isolation off campus.
For most people, the new 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. The vast majority of victims recover.
“By taking these actions we can help reduce the impacts to health and safety, especially for those Minnesotans who are at higher risk,” Malcolm said. “They need the rest of us to do our part to protect them, while scientists race to develop anti-viral drugs and vaccines that will protect all of us in the future.”
A full list of the recommendations is on the department’s coronavirus website.
The governor declined to close the Capitol but said it would be wise for lawmakers to finish the most important legislation of the 2020 session quickly.
Malcolm stuck by her decision not to recommend closing K-12 schools. She didn’t rule it out if conditions worsen, but said parents of children with underlying health problems should consider distance learning.
Earlier Friday, the Robbinsdale Area School District in suburban Minneapolis canceled classes and other activities for the day because a parent came in contact with someone who tested positive. The Minnesota State High School League canceled the remainder of the state basketball tournaments.
The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis canceled all performances through April 5. Minneapolis and St. Paul canceled their St. Patrick’s Day parades. Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced that Catholics in the Twin Cities archdiocese don’t have to attend Sunday Mass. And the U.S. District Court for Minnesota suspended all criminal and civil jury trials and grand juries through late April.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.