Walz calls special session, hints at COVID-19 restrictions

Published 6:50 am Tuesday, November 10, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that he will convene a special legislative session later this week to extend his peacetime emergency powers as the state sees a surge in COVID-19 cases, and he is also planning to announce some targeted restrictions to help control the spread of the virus.

Walz plans to unveil at least some of his restrictions on Tuesday, hinting that they would be more “surgically, much more aggressively” targeted than the 51-day stay-at-home order from the spring.

“At this point in time, we’ve learned we can do retail, we can do education, some of it in person, if we’re able to test, contain and contact trace those folks,” he said.

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The special session will be held Thursday, and Walz said he intends to extend the COVID-19 peacetime emergency by another 30 days to ensure the state can quickly respond to the pandemic. This will be the sixth special session of the year.

The governor is required to call them each time when he extends his emergency powers for 30 more days. There’s nothing officially on the agenda at this point. The Senate GOP majority has tried to use previous special sessions to rescind those powers, but has been blocked each time by the House Democratic majority.

“This is a dangerous phase of this pandemic.” Walz said in a statement. “We’re in the midst of a surge in case positivity and hospitalizations.”

The special session comes after a week of record-setting highs in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 3,930 new cases on Monday, lower than the single-day record of 5,924 set just a day earlier. The update lifted the total number of cases in Minnesota to 184,788 since the start of the pandemic.

Health officials confirmed additional 19 deaths Monday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,675.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Minnesota has risen over the past two weeks from 6.42 percent on Oct. 25 to 12.49 percent on Nov. 8. For Minnesota The Associated Press calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Minnesota has risen from 1,570 new cases per day on Oct. 25 to 4,312.86 new cases per day on Nov. 8.

Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan also announced Monday that the state is adding more than a dozen free COVID-19 testing sites over the next two weeks. Testing at the sites will be free and available to anyone, whether a person has symptoms or insurance. A saliva testing site opened Monday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and another saliva testing site will open Thursday at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

An additional 11 sites will open next Monday at National Guard armories statewide. Those sites, operated by the Minnesota National Guard in partnership with local public health staff, will offer a mix of saliva and nasal swab tests and will stay open through at least the end of the year.

“So many people are spreading the virus before they know they have it … today’s announcement brings us closer to getting the virus under control,” Walz said.

Health officials say increased testing is needed to help people find out if they have COVID-19 and to help the department track, trace and find asymptomatic people to prevent more spreading.

“The rate of case growth we are seeing is very concerning. Ultimately, our goal is to get out there, do as much testing as we can — with case investigation, contact tracing, and the necessary isolation — to stop this disease from spreading,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Tom Weaver is one person who took a saliva test. He told KSTP-TV  that it was quick and easy.

“It’s just a peace of mind kind of thing,” Weaver said. “You can go about your life letting people know, that way everybody is in the know, the best information is available, and they can make decisions appropriately.”