MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz plans to announce new COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday, including new guidance for youth sports as well as bars and restaurants, in an effort to slow the virus' spread in the community.
In a call with reporters Tuesday, Walz said some of the activities Minnesotans love would be put on a "pause" as the state tries to ease the strain on hospitals, which are struggling with a dramatic increase in COVID-19 patients and staff shortages. He provided no details, but said restrictions would be targeted and based on data.
"The idea that we just can go on with the way things have been with the data we have simply isn't sustained by the facts, nor in good conscious can I, as governor, put people at risk of what's coming," he said. "The virus cares about none of those things we like to do, and it will simply bring death and destruction, overwhelming our health care system."
Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann later said Wednesday's announcement would address bars, restaurants, fitness centers and gyms, youth sports and social gatherings.
There were 1,379 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Minnesota over the past two weeks, putting Minnesota seventh in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 121 people in Minnesota tested positive in the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
"The velocity that this is moving now, compared to any other time, is simply stunning," said Walz, a Democrat. While the majority of young people don't seem to get seriously ill, Walz said asymptomatic youth can spread the virus to others, impacting teachers, coaches and medical professionals, who are needed to care for the sick.
The Star Tribune reported that hospitalizations climbed to a record high Tuesday, with 1,669 COVID-19 patients in inpatient beds, including 346 in intensive care. COVID-19 patients now make up more than 30% of the 1,115 critically ill patients occupying 1,455 immediately available ICU beds.
An additional 5,945 positive cases were reported in Minnesota on Tuesday, along with 26 more deaths. The state has seen a total of 236,949 cases since the pandemic began and 2,943 deaths.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, whose brother had cancer and died of COVID-19 in March, said the virus can impact anyone — not just the elderly or those who are sick.
"It is killing me that I won't be able to have Thanksgiving with my mom… but there are empty seats at the table that will never be filled again and we have to take this seriously," she said. "Please do everything you can to make sure tables are full next year. ... COVID will continue to spread as long as you allow it to."
Some Republicans and vocal critics of the governor's past restrictions are also speaking out about taking precautions.
Former Rep. Nick Zerwas, a Republican who criticized prolonged shutdowns of businesses earlier in the pandemic, said he was recently hospitalized for five days with COVID-19 and was stunned by how quickly he deteriorated and needed supplemental oxygen.
"There are days and there are are times to find political issues in which to pick fights and debate about … COVID isn't one of them," said Zerwas, who also has heart issues. "Our health care providers are pushed to the brink and it's incumbent upon all of us… to take the steps we need to do take care of our communities."
Zerwas said the way the virus is spreading now is nothing like it was in June or July.
"Everything is changed. The virus is here," he said "If we don't act now, God help us."
Also Tuesday, Minnesota's Senate majority leader said his caucus could've handled news of positive COVID-19 cases among Republican senators differently. Sen. Paul Gazelka is among at least four Republican senators who have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. after the GOP held at least one in-person meeting as well as a post-election event that dozens attended.
Gazelka was criticized — and asked to leave his leadership post — for not sharing news of those positive tests with his Democratic colleagues in advance of a special session last week. Democrats also called for full transparency and the disclosure of information that would help trace who may have been exposed.
"In hindsight, we could have handled the event and our information sharing differently," Gazelka said in a statement. "I am committed to protecting senators, staff and the people with whom we come in contact."