A return to dining inside a restaurant could be the next step in lifting COVID-19 restrictions, but Gov. Tim Walz reiterated Wednesday that come Monday, only outdoor food service will be allowed.
It was Walz’s first public comment on the next phase of the “Stay Safe” plan since he reached an agreement last Saturday to broaden access to houses of worship beyond the limit of 10 people that he had originally set.
“We have been very cognizant of the pain that is causing economically,” Walz said of the restrictions on bars and eateries. “I think it is falling heavily on restaurants and the hospitality industry.”
Walz said he was in discussions with industry officials Wednesday morning, but for now the state is still trying to determine the impact that other recent decisions, including opening up more retail, are having on the spread of the new coronavirus.
“One of the things in turning that dial is there is a lag time” before new cases appear, Walz said.
But he added that restaurants, whose trade group said the outdoor dining limitation was “surprising and disappointing,” could see more restrictions lifted in the next phase of the state’s plan.
“That is the next step on the dial to open up some of these places,” Walz said.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state’s data indicators painted a “mixed picture” of COVID-19’s impact on health care resources.
On Wednesday, another 33 deaths were reported, matching a previous record set five days ago, bringing the total number of deaths in the state caused by the pandemic to 932.
Among the newly reported deaths, 27 were among residents of long-term care facilities. So far, 81% of the 932 fatalities have been nursing home or assisted living residents.
Still, one of the deaths announced Wednesday was of a Nobles County resident in their 30s who had no known underlying health conditions, Malcolm noted.
Most deaths and hospitalizations are among those with underlying health conditions, including heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity and lung conditions.
There are 598 patients hospitalized from COVID-19 complications, an increase of 28 from Tuesday. Of those, 260 needed intensive care, up two from the previous day.
“The rate of hospital admissions … is something we are watching really closely,” Malcolm said.
While some people do need high-level medical care, about 80% of all cases result in mild infections and people recover on their own. So far, 16,314 people no longer need to be isolated because their symptoms have abated.
After about 6,600 patient samples were tested for the virus Tuesday, an additional 510 cases were discovered, bringing the state’s total to 22,464.
Health officials said Wednesday that there have been 175 people who were infectious while at a child care center or at a school, an increase from 72 cases on May 18.
“As testing increases, we are seeing more cases in schools and child care centers,” said department spokeswoman Julie Bartkey. “Many of these facilities have been serving the children of essential workers since the beginning of the stay-at-home order.”
About 80% of the cases have been among adults, she noted. All those infected, as well as their contacts, have been encouraged to isolate at home.
Six facilities had five or more cases, Bartkey noted, although the number of facilities that had at least one case was not available. Names of the facilities were not released.
In addition to long-term care facilities, there have been cases in other places where people are confined together, including 382 cases in residential behavioral health facilities, 160 cases in jails and 66 cases in homeless shelters.
Although many states have been relaxing their stay-at-home restrictions, a study published in the medical journal JAMA on Wednesday said that the restrictions did have an effect on reducing the need for hospital care in four states, including Minnesota.
Colorado, Ohio and Virginia were the only other states that had stay-at-home policies and data on hospitalizations that allowed the researchers to examine the before-and-after effects.
“Stay-at-home orders probably [have] reduced hospitalization numbers by 50 to 60 percent,” said Soumya Sen, associate professor in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
“Given the fact that we see this happening in all four states … strongly suggests that the stay-at-home orders played an important role in slowing down hospitalizations in these states,” said Sen, the study’s lead author.
The research, part of the University’s COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project, will continue to look at the impact on rising hospital admissions as more states relax restrictions.
“We are seeing that already in hospitalization numbers, and the hope is that the hospitals would have enough capacity to provide better care to those who become ill than they were before.”
Staff writer James Walsh contributed to this report.