Daily life across Minnesota is changing dramatically as organizations and institutions hastily maneuver to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
People are being forced to keep their distance as sporting and entertainment events are canceled, higher education goes online only and businesses encourage employees to work from home. By Thursday, nine cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the state, with the latest cases surfacing in Hennepin, Dakota and Stearns counties, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
St. Thomas Academy shut down school Thursday and Friday “out of an abundance of caution” after learning that a parent had tested positive for COVID-19. It’s unclear if the parent is among those identified by state health officials.
“While this individual has not been on campus, we are working with the family to gather more information,” the school said in a note to families. “We are also working with the local health agencies to determine the appropriate course of action.”
Within days, the specter of the virus outbreak has forced organizations to shut down events, heeding recommendations from health officials that gatherings of more than 250 people be canceled or postponed. The archbishop issued a dispensation to Twin Cities Catholics lifting their obligation to attend Sunday mass, and organizers have pulled the plug on St. Patrick’s Day parades in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“It’s the proper thing to do,” said Judy Clerkin, who helps organize the Minneapolis parade with her husband, Sean Clerkin.
“We just don’t want to expose anyone to anything,” she said. “We might look at doing something in the fall if this pandemic passes over. You can have a parade anytime and call it St. Patrick’s Day. Everybody is Irish when you tell them to be.”
But for now, the mounting cancellations are likely to take an economic toll on businesses, workers and their families, said St. Paul Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher. “We’re sobered by it,” she said.
On Friday night, the Minnesota Orchestra will play to an empty hall. The orchestra canceled two weeks of concerts and events, but it will perform at 8 p.m. for a live radio broadcast on Classical Minnesota Public Radio.
The coronavirus also began to unplug much of the concert touring industry. The Lumineers and Jason Aldean postponed concerts at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center this weekend, while Kenny Chesney will reschedule his May 2 date at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium and Dan + Shay moved their April 10 Target Center show to Aug. 29. The Lumineers plan to return Sept. 24, while Aldean’s show is rebooked for Aug. 8.
Wordplay, the Loft Literary Center book festival that drew thousands to downtown Minneapolis last spring, will become a virtual celebration that takes place in April and May and is shared via streaming, online and in podcasts.
The Minneapolis Institute of Art canceled two weeks of events, tours and activities but plans to remain open, as does the Walker Art Center, which canceled a pair of lectures.
While New York’s Broadway theaters suspended performances through April 12, the show will go on at the Guthrie, Children’s Theatre, Hennepin Theatre Trust and most Twin Cities artistic companies.
The Twin Cities Auto Show will continue its nine-day run through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, said Scott Lambert, president of the Greater Metro Automobile Dealers Association, which organizes the annual show.
“We’ve been briefed by the convention center. They have a very robust cleaning operation. They’re cleaning all the touch points — door handles, water faucets and those kind of things,” he said. “The center is cleaner, more sanitary than most people’s homes right now.”
But the show’s organizers will reassess their plan to stay open if officials advise them otherwise, he said. “Right now we’re being told by the mayor’s office and the convention office that the city is open for business, so we decided to stay open.”
The coronavirus, however, pushed officials with the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services (MYAS) to cancel its weekend Boys Grade State Basketball Championship, which would have 873 teams playing in 22 locations across the state. Some school districts began closing their buildings to outside events, such as the tournament, said Dawson Blanck, MYAS executive director. The nature of the game, however, made canceling prudent.
“With basketball we have skin-to-skin contact constantly and everyone is touching the same ball,” Blanck said. “And [the game] is in this warm gymnasium. It sounds like the recipe for coronavirus.”
Last weekend, 574 girls teams played their championship tournament because there was no talk locally about the coronavirus, Blanck said. “The last 24 hours have been unbelievable,” he said. “Everything has escalated.”
Minneapolis Public Schools has canceled all nonessential activities, such as plays, concerts, interdistrict events, field trips, science fairs and fundraisers. Meanwhile, higher education institutions throughout the state canceled in-person classes and are shifting to remote learning. Some schools also extended spring breaks.
The University of St. Thomas, Carleton College, Mitchell Hamline School of Law and the University of North Dakota announced Thursday that they were moving to remote study. A day earlier, the University of Minnesota, which has nearly 63,000 undergraduate and graduate students, was the first of the large institutions to move classes online at least until April 1.
Minnesota CentraCare announced it will no longer allow visitors to its eight hospitals, long-term care facilities, senior housing, hospital outpatient departments, ambulatory surgery center and sites that house large numbers of people. CentraCare includes hospitals in St. Cloud, Long Prairie, Melrose, Monticello, Paynesville, Redwood Falls, Sauk Centre and Willmar, as well as more than 30 clinics, 11 senior housing facilities and seven long-term care facilities throughout central Minnesota.