ST. PAUL — Minnesotans are nearly a week into a stay-at-home order aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus in Minnesota, and a hotline to report those congregating in large groups or failing to keep a sizable distance between themselves and others is generating hundreds of calls.

State emergency workers this week said they'd tracked more than 500 calls since the line got up and running last weekend. The stay-at-home executive order allows Minnesotans to go outdoors for exercise and activity if they observe social distancing requests, keeping at least 6 feet between themselves and those who aren't members of their households.

And not all Minnesotans have been observing that rule, reports to state officials indicate.

The hotline came under fire this week, and Republican lawmakers over social media and in news releases called on Gov. Tim Walz to take down the hotline and email address used to report suspected violations of the order.

Republican lawmakers have objected to the hotline and said Minnesotans instead should aim to educate one another about the importance of not congregating in large groups and maintaining space between individuals in public spaces.

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Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Twitter called on the governor to take down the tipline, saying, "We can all show a bit of kindness to our neighbors as we manage our times and needs differently in the stay at home efforts."

But Walz on a call with reporters Thursday, April 2, defended the phone line and said it was critical that concerned Minnesotans not block up emergency lines by phoning in reports to 911.

"That 911 system has to be reserved for other emergencies," Walz said. Walz and Democratic lawmakers have defended the hotline, saying it is important to enforce the stay-at-home order.

The governor said law enforcement officers aren't penalizing those who violate the order at this time but have aimed to inform Minnesotans about the order and ask them to space themselves out while out and about to limit the disease's spread. Those intentionally skirting orders to limit social gatherings and additional orders closing bars, restaurants and areas of public amusement could face fines and jail time after repeated warnings.

Walz said that amid the stay-at-home order, expected to end April 10, he was reviewing potential clarifications that would allow small numbers of people to golf if they maintain social distancing.

"We're still trying to evolve these (orders)," he said. "We're trying to clarify."

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.

School and childcare hotline: 651-297-1304 or 800-657-3504.

MDH COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.