ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, March 25, issued an order requiring Minnesotans to stay in place beginning at 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 27.

The move is the governor's most sweeping to date in combatting the pandemic in Minnesota. And it comes as 25 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were reported in Minnesota, and the number of people hospitalized with the illness nearly doubled as compared to a day prior.

Walz, via a video feed from the governor's residence, said the new restriction was needed "to buy more time" to build intensive care unit beds and stockpile emergency supplies. The stay at home order is set to remain in place for at least two weeks.

He pointed to computer models that showed 74,000 Minnesotans could die from the illness without mitigation strategies and the state's suitable 235 intensive care unit beds would be overrun by the end of April. It wasn't immediately clear how many were projected to die from the illness with the new restrictions. Health officials have reported that one Minnesotan has died from COVID-19.

Models project that 2 million Minnesotans will eventually contract the illness and 15% will require hospitalization at some point while 5% will require intensive care. But with additional social distancing measures, the state could have extra time to put in place more beds before the number of cases and cases requiring critical care in the state peaks.

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"I know how painful this is," Walz said. Walz on Monday went into self-quarantine after his security guard tested positive for COVID-19. "I'm asking for your patience, your cooperation and your understanding. I am asking you to sacrifice. I am asking businesses to sacrifice."

Walz had already closed schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, salons and other areas of public amusement in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, and the governor said Wednesday that those orders would remain in place through May 1 for restaurants and May 4 for schools. Schools were set to begin distance learning beginning Monday, March 30.

The new order deemed "stay at home" expands closures to include more non-essential businesses during the outbreak. Wisconsin, along with 18 other states and several other jurisdictions, has set in place similar restrictions that close nonessential business, limit travel and ban gatherings.

The new restriction will require Minnesotans to remain in their homes as much as possible. Grocery shopping, pumping gas, seeking medical attention, picking up medication or exercising outdoors would still be allowed under the order. Liquor stores would be allowed to remain open during the stay at home phase. And those who need to care for family, travel for critical work or jobs in another state would be authorized to do so.

Those who are able to work from home should do so, under the order, and those deemed essential workers will be exempt from possible fines and jail time for traveling or gathering.

Among those deemed "essential fields" are those working in health care, grocery stores and food production, pharmacies, utilities, law enforcement, emergency services, critical manufacturing, financial services, transportation services and journalism among others. In all, the critical workers represent 78% of Minnesota's jobs, Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said.

Walz said the state had no plan to arrest Minnesotans violating the order, though law enforcement officers could. Penalties for violating the order include fines of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

“It’s not our desire to write the public a ticket, it’s our desire to protect the public health," Walz said.

Minnesota hospitals for days have been urging the move to tougher restrictions in hopes of reducing the number of people infected and of those who develop critical symptoms or related illnesses. And the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday said it shared Walz's goal to wipe out COVID-19 in Minnesota.

"With the time that we have as the surge comes toward us, the hard work for Minnesota is to stay at home and that will help with mitigation strategy," Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association, said citing space, staff and personal protective equipment as critical needs to combat the virus. “There’s no time to hold a breath, just head down, keep preparing in those three critical areas."

But others raised concerns about the order and how it could affect businesses in the state.

“I share the Governor’s concerns about the safety and well-being of all Minnesotans," Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said. "I also have grave concerns about the Governor’s statewide Stay-at-Home order, and the consequences for the families of Minnesota when their jobs and businesses that provide their livelihood are lost.”

The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday reported that 287 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Minnesota and 26 were hospitalized due to the illness. Another 122 no longer needed to be isolated after recovering from the illness.

For most, COVID-19 manifests with manageable symptoms including cough and fever. But it can cause more extreme symptoms, pneumonia and death for older adults and those with other health conditions.

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