ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Nov. 17, said he plans to put a "pause" on youth and high school league sports Wednesday and announce other restrictions aimed at quelling the community spread of the coronavirus in Minnesota.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor on a call with reporters said the state's hospital capacity has been stretched and the health care workforce has increasingly come at risk of contracting or having to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 due to community spread. And he said sporting activities would be among the areas set to see new restrictions on Wednesday.
"It's the asymptomatic spread to others in their community that inadvertently end up with getting Dr. (Jon) Cole or a nurse or a child care provider or a teacher (sick) and what we see is that it expands exponentially from that," Walz said. "The desire to have these kids play, I understand how strong that is but we're at the point now where there's not going to be any coaches or referees or folks involved in this because it is spreading at a rate that is going to start impacting on huge numbers."
Walz gave the preview for new executive orders ahead as part of a bipartisan news conference call that included a former Republican state lawmaker who'd contracted COVID-19 and required five days of intensive care. A handful of others who'd survived the illness or lost loved ones to the disease also shared their stories and implored Minnesotans to take mitigation measures seriously. Emergency Physician Jon Cole, whom Walz referenced, spoke about contracting COVID-19 earlier this year and treating dozens of patients with the illness.
A spokesman for Walz on Tuesday also confirmed that the governor would announce additional restrictions on bars, restaurants, fitness centers and gyms and social gatherings during a 6 p.m. televised address on Wednesday. The Minnesota Department of Health has reported COVID-19 clusters stemming from those settings despite additional limits.
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As the case counts climb in the state, Walz has sought to highlight the illness's impact on real people including frontline workers and COVID-19 survivors in an effort to break down opposition to his executive orders. Walz a week ago set an earlier cutoff for in-person service at restaurants and bars and limited bar counter service as the number of cases and hospitalizations in the state continued to surge.
And again Tuesday, he said it was imperative that the state again step in to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
"The point we're at in the pandemic is, the same thing with our businesses, the same thing with our schools, if we don't handle this, it's not going to be a choice whether we keep it open. There's going to be no coaches to coach and we're going to have more kids in the hospital. It is inevitable with this growth," Walz said. "We'll have a pause in a whole lot of these activities but we're being thoughtful about where it's hitting, what we can do and how to best get us back to a place where we can do these activities."
The move could cut the high school volleyball and football seasons before ongoing playoffs have concluded and delay if not cancel winter sports. State Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann on Monday said that 10% of cases at Minnesota schools are linked to sports. Ehresmann said the health department has learned that 15 cases are known to be linked to high school soccer, 20 to basketball, 35 to football, 41 to volleyball, and 46 to hockey.
The Minnesota Medical Association has called on Walz to toughen restrictions as they continued to report a surge in cases requiring hospitalization and intensive care. And they made another plea on Tuesday.
"Health care workers are being exposed in the community and those still working are nearing their breaking point. Emergency rooms are overwhelmed," Marilyn Peitso, the association's president, said in a news release. "For Minnesotans who want to dismiss the seriousness of COVID-19, please know that your ability or that of your loved ones to receive care for a car accident, stroke, cancer, heart attack, broken bone or other urgent need will be compromised if trends continue or worsen."
Frontline workers, COVID-19 patients and people who'd lost loved ones to the pandemic also asked that Minnesotans take existing restrictions seriously and work to minimize their risk of spreading or contracting the disease.
Former state Rep. Nick Zerwas, a Republican, said he'd undergone 10 open-heart surgeries in his life and experienced several illnesses, but none like COVID-19. Zerwas said he sought hospital care when the symptoms became too much for him to manage on his own and he was in intensive care for days before he was discharged.
While he has disagreed with the governor on some of his decisions around the pandemic, Zerwas said Minnesotans need to take COVID-19 seriously and heed guidelines to reduce transmission like wearing a mask and social distancing.
“There are days and there are times to find political issues in which to pick fights and debate about. My hope and message today is that COVID isn’t one of them,” Zerwas said. “This is a completely different ballgame, the virus is here. If we don’t act now, God help us.”
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