ST. PAUL, Minn. — New applications for unemployment insurance in Minnesota for the week topped 50,000 on Wednesday as closures on bars, restaurants and other businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19 took a toll on the state's economy.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development has been taking more than 2,000 applications per hour, compared with the usual 40 or 50, Commissioner Steve Grove said at a news conference with Gov, Tim Walz, who warned that the state faces a long road ahead.
"It is an eerie and heartbreaking scene to see shuttered businesses and shuttered schools, but the encouraging part of that means is the better we do that, the sooner we get through this and the move lives that we save," Walz said.
The jobless numbers were expected to grow as some retailers that aren't covered by the governor's closure orders announced plans to close or cut their hours. Among those that closed Tuesday was the Mall of America in Bloomington.
Walz also announced that 32 Minnesota residents who were on the Grand Princess cruise ship were flown home from a military base in California where they had been quarantined for more than a week. The ship was forced to idle for days off the California coast because of a cluster of coronavirus cases aboard. The passengers from Minnesota were taken by Metro Transit buses to their homes, where Walz said they will now be in self-quarantine.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases of COVID-19 recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe cases may take three to six weeks to get better.
The Minnesota Department of Health said 77 residents had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann reiterated in a briefing for reporters Wednesday that the figure does not represent the total number of cases because not everyone who is infected gets tested. Four patients were hospitalized as of Wednesday; three others have been released, she said. Six of the 77 cases involved community transmission, meaning the patients had no known contacts with infected people or with people who had traveled outside the state
The department on Tuesday announced that it was limiting testing to people who have been hospitalized, health care workers and people who live in congregate settings such as nursing homes, due to a national shortage of testing supplies. Ehresman said employers should not require testing to qualify for sick time.
Walz expressed frustration with the lack of federal help in securing testing supplies despite his letters and calls to Vice President Mike Pence, the White House point person on COVID-19. Minnesota health officials had to freeze 1,700 test samples because they doesn't have enough supplies to test them, the governor said.
He also criticized the federal government's decision to prioritize counties with large numbers of cases for testing, saying that move has dried up supplies for Minnesota because none of its counties meet the standard. The testing bottleneck makes it harder to plan for how to respond to the pandemic, he said.