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Latest on COVID-19 in Minnesota: Cases rise, hospitals prepare, restaurants close

MPR News Staff

In Minnesota, the count of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise. The state health department confirmed 54 cases Monday, up from 35 the day before.

Officials update those numbers every day at noon, and host a press briefing at 1 p.m. to offer context. MPR News will continue to cover both on the air and online.

As the numbers rose Monday, Gov. Tim Walz announced additional measures to curb the spread of the highly contagious virus and encourage Minnesotans to stay home. Schools are temporarily closed, the dine-in sections of bars, restaurants and coffee shops — as well as gyms, theaters and other gathering places — are set to close by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

President Trump recommended Monday that Americans continue to practice “social distancing,” and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people — a recommendation dramatically stricter than federal authorities’ issued guidelines.

In the meantime, health officials continue to urge people to wash their hands — for at least 20 seconds; work from home, if possible; avoid large groups of people and maintain about 6 feet of distance from others when in public, as they work to blunt the rapid spread of the disease.

Governor closes bars, restaurants, gyms: The governor’s latest executive order requires bars, restaurants, gyms, coffee shops, breweries and other venues to close to dine-in guests as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. It extends until 5 p.m. March 27 — but Walz said it’s likely that this is just the beginning. The measure allows businesses to continue takeout and delivery services. It does not cover grocery stores, convenience stores or pharmacies, the governor said. Full story here.

Legislature passes emergency funding bill: Minnesota lawmakers took swift action and unanimous votes early Tuesday to direct $200 million toward a health care response fund aimed at helping front-line workers respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The money it contains can be used to pay staff, set up temporary testing and treatment units, purchase protective gear and make other changes aimed at slowing the spread of the contagious virus. Full story here.

Workers affected by coronavirus can apply for unemployment benefits: Workers can file for benefits if they had their hours reduced or lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state agency says people should apply for benefits as soon as possible. Delaying may result in some benefit losses. Full story here.