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Unemployment claims jump in Minnesota as COVID-19 cases rise

MINNEAPOLIS  — Minnesota saw a sharp jump in applications for unemployment insurance after Gov. Tim Walz ordered restaurants, bars, theaters, fitness clubs and other places of public amusement closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development took more than 2,000 applications per hour Tuesday, compared with about 40 to 50 per hour last week, said Jim Hegman, the state’s unemployment insurance director. The number of applications this week topped 31,000 by Tuesday afternoon, compared with a more typical 500 for this time of year, he said.

The number was expected to grow as some retailers that aren’t covered by the governor’s order announced plans to close or cut their hours. Among those that closed Tuesday was the Mall of America in Bloomington. Hair salons, nail salons and other spa-like businesses are also covered by the governor’s order, which runs through March 27, the state cosmetology board said.

Walz tweeted that he had canceled plans to deliver his State of the State speech to the Legislature in person next Monday and will instead televise it at some unspecified future date. The Minnesota Republican and Democratic parties announced plans to hold their local endorsing conventions electronically, in keeping with state and federal guidance to discourage large gatherings.

For most people, the 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. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases of COVID-19 recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe cases may take three to six weeks to get better.

The Minnesota Department of Health said 77 residents had tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday. Infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann acknowledged the figure does not represent the total number of cases because not everyone who is infected gets tested. Three patients were hospitalized as of Tuesday.

With the number of hospitalized cases expected to grow, a long-term care hospital in St. Paul will be converted into a specialized treatment center to keep infected patients out of other hospitals. M Health Fairview said it plans to expand Bethesda Hospital from 50 beds to 90 to provide specialty care for COVID-19 patients. The facility will have 35 intensive care beds and ventilators, and 55 medical-surgical beds.