Apr 6, 2020
Governors Evers & Walz COVID-19 Briefing for Wisconsin & Minnesota Transcript
Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota held a joint press conference for the states on April 6. Governor Evers signed an executive order to postpone the Wisconsin primary election, and Governor Walz announced $6.2M in COVID-19 grants for the state’s veterans. Full transcript here:
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Governor Evers: (00:00)
Last Friday I called the legislature into a special session to take up legislation that would allow all Wisconsinites to vote safely by mail. Earlier this morning without discussion or debate, they ended that session and took no action to ensure public health and safety.
Governor Evers: (00:17)
The situation in Wisconsin and in our nation has gotten worse since I first called that special session. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has granted Wisconsin a major disaster declaration for the entire state of Wisconsin, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor Evers: (00:34)
Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, the United States Surgeon General stated that the impact of COVID-19 will have on the United States this week is our “Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, and it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.” Over the weekend, the president said about the upcoming week, “There will be a lot of death.” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, added that, “This is a moment not it’ll be going into the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy and but by doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe.”
Governor Evers: (01:22)
We’re feeling that pain here in Wisconsin. Our friends and family are getting sick. Our healthcare systems are feeling strain and frontline workers don’t have all the resources they need to stay safe. We’re seeing folks have to hold up signs and wave to their loved ones from across the street and hearing heartbreaking stories about people suffering the devastation of this virus alone because it’s too dangerous to have someone at their bedside.
Governor Evers: (01:49)
The number of deaths in Wisconsin continues to rise. On Friday. We had 56 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. By Sunday afternoon. We are up to 68 deaths, to include two deaths at a nursing home in Sheboygan, not far from where I grew up in Plymouth. The Wisconsin National Guard has since dispatched… has been dispatched to establish a mobile testing site at the facility. The second time we’ve had to call up the National Guard to add support in a nursing home experiencing a cluster of COVID-19 cases and death. We expect more cases. We expect more deaths. We expect more tragedies.
Governor Evers: (02:28)
With that in mind, I cannot in good conscience allow any types of gathering that would further the spread of this disease and to put more lives at risk. I’ve been advised by public health experts at the Department of Health Services that despite the heroic efforts and good work of our local election officials, poll workers and National Guard troops, there’s not a sufficiently safe way to administer in-person voting tomorrow. That’s why earlier today I signed Executive Order 74 to suspend in-person voting for the spring election until June 9th or 9th, excuse me, and call on the legislature to convene in special session on April 7th to take up legislation extending the date of the spring election to June 9th or another reasonable date we can all agree on.
Governor Evers: (03:18)
In the interim, eligible Wisconsin voters may continue to request receive and cast mail and absentee ballots, register to vote or update their registration status and all ballots already cast in the 2020 spring election will remain valid and will be canvassed in conjunction with in-person voting on the new date.
Governor Evers: (03:40)
I’ve also said before that I am deeply concerned about local elections on the ballot and ensuring continuity of government as we continue to respond to this crisis. Executive Order 74 we’ll extend the terms of those currently serving in these local elected offices until we’re able to safely hold an election and certify the results.
Governor Evers: (04:02)
Now to be clear, this was not an easy decision that I made lightly. Frankly, there is no good answer to this problem. I wish it were easy. I had been asking everybody to do their part to help keep our families, our neighbors and our communities safe. And I had hoped that the legislature would do its part just as the rest of the state are to help keep people healthy and safe. But as municipalities are consolidating polling locations and absent legislative or court action, I cannot in good conscience stand by and do nothing. The bottom line is that I have an obligation to keep people safe and that’s why I signed this executive order today.
Governor Evers: (04:46)
We’ve seen a number of other states, including our neighbors like Ohio, make changes in their elections in order to preserve public safety as we fight this disease. The difference between all those other states and what is happening in Wisconsin comes down to the legislature. In all those other states, Republicans and Democrats and the governors… and Democrats in the governor’s office and in the legislature work together to find the right solution.
Governor Evers: (05:12)
I’ve tried for weeks to meet Republicans in the middle to find common ground and figure out a Wisconsin solution, but at every turn they fought all the way to the United States Supreme Court even the most basic and common sense proposals to ensure a safe and fair election. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, folks. We’ve got to work together to keep people safe. That is the bottom line. All along that has been my promise to Wisconsin. I will fo follow the science. I will listen to the public health experts and every single decision I make will be guided by what’s right, what the right thing is to do to protect public health and safety. There’s no shame in changing course to keep people safe and quite frankly, to save lives. Our allegiance cannot be to party or to ideology. It must be to the people of Wisconsin and their safety.
Governor Evers: (06:09)
Most Wisconsins don’t care about political fighting or battles that are going on in the courts. They’re just scared right now. They want a governor of the state to stand up for them, and so that’s what I’m doing. Wisconsin constitution requires no less of me as governor. Our constitution establishes that the purpose of the state of Wisconsin is to ensure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare and as governor I made an oath to uphold that constitution. My hope is that the courts of Wisconsin will agree that this is an unprecedented moment in time and affirm that my action today is necessary to keep the people of our state safe. And now I’ll turn this over to Secretary Andrea Palm.
Andrea Palm: (06:59)
Thank you governor. Good afternoon everyone and thanks so much for joining us again today. I want to thank the residents of Wisconsin. We know you are working so hard to follow the Safer at Home physical distancing guidelines to flatten the curve. Research coming out of the World Health Organization on COVID- 19, as well as research on previous pandemics, all support strategies like Safer at Home and our physical distancing policies. The point of these policies is to buy more time in order to build our healthcare capacity, buy needed medical supplies, find more healthcare professionals, ensure adequate hospital bed and critical care capacity, increase our testing and bulk up our contact tracing teams to get our state ready for the surge and beyond. The health and wellbeing of the residents of Wisconsin is our focus and that is why we are taking further action today.
Andrea Palm: (07:57)
The upcoming election is a statewide election and it requires a statewide solution. In-person voting, by definition, inhibits our ability to physically distance and the recent consolidation of polling locations in many parts of Wisconsin would result in mass gatherings. In-person voting would without question, accelerate the transmission of COVID-19 and increase the number of cases. And an increase in the number of cases in Wisconsin would result in more deaths. Throughout this response, we have put the health and safety of Wisconsin residents first and that is why I and the DHS public health experts advise Governor Evers to avoid the mass gatherings that would result from an in-person election on Tuesday.
Andrea Palm: (08:43)
In addition, I have signed two emergency orders today regarding our health care system. The orders allow healthcare facilities providers and emergency medical services flexibility to address staffing needs so they are able to provide needed care. The order adjust training and license renewal deadlines, as well as paramedic level ambulance staffing levels for emergency medical services. It suspends staff orientations at home health agencies and hospices, adjusts nurse aide training hours, relaxes criteria for resident care staff at community-based residential facilities and adult family homes and ensures nursing homes cannot discharge patients who are unable to pay. The order also modifies requirements at opioid addiction treatment services so staff can continue to be responsive and accessible. Finally, they allow healthcare provider licenses that would have expired during the public health emergency to remain valid until 30 days after the emergency is over.
Andrea Palm: (09:46)
In order to assist with this patient care, we’d like to give you an update on PPE, or personal protective equipment, that has come to us from the Federal Strategic National Stockpile. The total PPE Wisconsin has distributed from the Strategic National Stockpile includes 104,680 N95 respirators, 260,840 surgical masks, 48,168 face shields and 140,750 pairs of gloves. This PPE will help protect our medical professionals as they do their important work of treating COVID-19 patients who need care. However, what we have received from the Strategic National Stockpile barely begins to meet the need or the requests of the Wisconsin healthcare system.
Andrea Palm: (10:40)
In addition to the SNS, we continue to process PPE made available by the buyback and donation program that the governor launched last month. We have distributed supplies from these sources including 15,100 N95 respirators, 24,200 surgical masks, and these have gone to public safety staff, including police and fire departments, to protect them as they do their essential work during this pandemic.
Andrea Palm: (11:12)
We know this is a time of unprecedented stress for so many, and especially for our frontline healthcare workers. That is why our new website, resilient.wisconsin.gov offers tools and resources to reduce stress during this pandemic. There are pages dedicated to helping first responders and healthcare workers. And there are also pages for the rest of us to learn more about mental health, wellbeing and self care, tools to reduce stress and to stay connected in this time of physical distancing. These tools are so important because we know that safer and home is what we need to do to flatten the curve and reducing our stress so it’s possible to follow these guidelines is essential.
Andrea Palm: (11:53)
I want to give an update now on our numbers for today. Here’s where things stand. We’ve got 12 active labs running COVID tests in Wisconsin with a daily lab capacity of 3,563 tests. We have 26,574 negative tests, which is an increase of 1,405 over yesterday. We have two counties reporting cases for the first time, Kewaunee and Waushara. and there are now 2,440 positive tests, an increase of a 173 positive COVID people here in the state of Wisconsin. Our number of COVID hospitalizations is 668 ,which is an increase of 44 over yesterday, and this means that 27% of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Wisconsin have been hospitalized.
Andrea Palm: (12:45)
Our total deaths to date have now reached 77. The new deaths today include one death in Dane County, a male in his 90s; six additional deaths in Milwaukee County, a male in his 50s, two males in their 70s and one female and one male in their 80s, as well as one male in his 90s. In Racine County, we have one male in his 70s that has passed away, as well as one male in his 60s in Winnebago County. Again, we honor the memories of those who have passed and grieve their loss and grieve for those who are also experiencing this loss.
Andrea Palm: (13:24)
When the numbers increase, it is easy to think of this pandemic in terms of graphs and the numbers on our webpages, but we need to remember that each number represents a person, a friend or family member, a neighbor, or a coworker. When we each do our part to flatten the curve through physical distancing and staying safer at home, we are doing our part to keep ourselves and others healthy and safe, and we are doing our part to give us time that we need to make sure our healthcare system and our frontline healthcare workers have the capacity and the tools they need to meet this challenge. Thank you for continuing to join us in that work.
Speaker 2: (14:02)
Thank you. We’ll now open it up to.
Andrea Palm: (14:03)
… in that work.
Speaker 3: (14:03)
Thank you. We’ll now open it up to questions, a reminder to maintain audio quality to keep your phones on mute until it’s time to ask your question. For the sake of time, we also want to remind you that we are taking one question per reporter per outlet. We’ll begin today with Scott Bauer from the Associated Press, Scott.
Scott Bauer: (14:21)
Thank you so much [inaudible 00:14:22] extend the call. Governor, less than a week ago you said that an order like this would be clearly against the law. Do you still believe that your order today is against the law and if not, why not?
Governor Evers: (14:33)
Certainly circumstances have changed. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people that have been… deaths have increased as well as the number of people that are determined to be positive to COVID19. In addition, we’ve had significant retraction as far as a number of polling places that are open. Clearly anybody that can do basic math understands. If you have fewer places to serve voters that you will have larger numbers at those sites. Numbers that will easily strain the system and frankly cause more negative results for the people that are there. So clearly I believe that this falls under my ability to make sure that the security of the people of Wisconsin, which I do have obligations to maintain is taken into account and that’s why I’m doing this today.
Speaker 3: (15:40)
Thank you Scott. And now to Mitchell Schmidt from the Wisconsin State Journal, Mitchell. And a reminder, star six to mute or unmute your phones, Mitchell Schmidt from the State Journal. Okay, we’ll move on then to Patrick Marley from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Patrick. Patrick Marley? Okay moving on then to Melanie Conklin from the Wisconsin Examiner, Melanie.
Melanie Conklin: (16:20)
Hello. Governor, could you walk us through the decision you made that changed your mind in terms of making this order today? Just a little bit more, not just the timeline, the decision, but also your personal thoughts and the factors that get into it.
Governor Evers: (16:40)
Yeah, and I’ll go back in time a little bit. It’s been several weeks now that it was clear that we needed to do something with this election. So we met with legislative leaders, talked through what are some possibilities and couldn’t come to any conclusion then. And then we morphed into closer to the present but I require them to go into special session to resolve this problem. And it was responded with a gavel in and gavel out twice that now within the last couple of days. The other piece, clearly it was anytime and there was several judicial actions going on at the same time and every time there was a decision, the Republicans rushed to the forefront and took several steps to make sure that those decisions were overcome. So clearly there was an issue of whether they wanted to make sure that people were safe or not.
Governor Evers: (17:39)
That said, at the end of the end of the day, Melanie, to me it is… I was thinking about this all this weekend, the people of Wisconsin, the majority of them don’t spend all their waking hours thinking about are Republicans or Democrats getting the upper hand here. Nor are they spending most of their time thinking about different court cases that go on ad nauseum. They’re sitting there saying, “I’m scared. I’m scared of going to the polls. I’m afraid of my future.” At the end of the day, somebody’s got to stand up for those folks and I decided that it was important for the governor of the state. Since I haven’t had much luck frankly with the legislature to take the step. It’s an important step, but this transcends all that other stuff that the insiders, including me frankly, I’m a politician as much as anybody else, but this isn’t about politics. This isn’t about judicial issues and fights. It’s about the people of the state that are afraid of their future, afraid of their own personal safety and I believe that I have an obligation to stand up for them.
Speaker 3: (19:05)
Thank you Melanie. Now to Stephanie Hoff from WisPolitics, Stephanie. Stephanie Hoff?
Stephanie Hoff: (19:16)
Hi. My question is for Secretary Andrea Palm. You gave us numbers of how much PPE that you got from the national stockpile. Is there a goal that Wisconsin is trying to meet? You said that the stockpile didn’t meet your requests.
Andrea Palm: (19:35)
So Stephanie, the Federal Strategic National Stockpile is metered out to states based on your population size. And so we have gotten two of the three allocations that we will receive from the stockpile, as every other state will receive their proportional share. And so in addition to metering that out to a local healthcare, longterm care hospitals, et cetera. We have started this buyback and procurement program and our goal is to supplement what we get from the Strategic National Stockpile to meet needs. But I think what we are seeing now and what we’re seeing across the country is generally a shortage of needed protective equipment for our frontline and healthcare workers. And so our work is across a number of fronts, the Strategic National Stockpile, the buyback and donation program, and then just straight up procurement, which we have also exercised a number of contracts and are awaiting delivery on things that we have purchased again to turn around and distribute to local communities across the state.
Andrea Palm: (20:49)
We’ve also made all of these requests to FEMA so that we can continue to encourage our federal partners to help meet the needs that we have here in Wisconsin. But this is an all hands on deck, pursuing all options at the same time to try to get what we need here in the state of Wisconsin. But there definitely are shortages nationwide of the various pieces of medical essential medical supplies that we need.
Speaker 3: (21:17)
Thank you Stephanie. Now To Sean Kirkby from Wisconsin Health News, Sean.
Sean Kirkby: (21:25)
Hi, thanks for taking my question. Secretary Palm, you mentioned that there are now 3,500 or so tests being done daily or at least the capacity for that being done in the state. So there aren’t as many tests being performed daily. I think about half of that. Why is there that gap and are you looking at making any sort of changes so that we can potentially meet that capacity going forward?
Andrea Palm: (21:56)
Yeah, absolutely Sean. I’ll say a couple of things in it that I think Ryan can dig in on a few of the details here. So we have been prioritizing tests so that we’re really focused on diagnosis and clinical care for those who are hospitalized for our frontline healthcare workers and for vulnerable populations like longterm care and the residents who live there. I think we’ve gotten, as you suggest Sean, we’ve gotten into a groove in that space and our capacity has started to expand, which is exactly what we wanted to do. It’s exactly what our efforts and our public private partnerships with a number of folks that we’ve announced over the last week or so were intended to do. And so for us the next turn of the crank really is as you suggest, how do we open the pipeline a little, recognizing that we’re never going to be in a place where either asymptomatic people should be tested or where everyone needs to be tested.
Andrea Palm: (22:53)
But what is the next targeted [inaudible 00:22:56] of folks that help us increase the amount of testing to meet the capacity? And also how are we thinking about targeting that testing? For example, the governor and in his remarks mentioned the Sheboygan nursing home. Do we do some targeted testing there? Just to wrap around that, make sure that we’re really focused on the needs of that facility or others where you see little outbreaks like that. I think that is something that we very much want to pursue as well as other kinds of targeted testing strategies that push us to the limit of our capacity but that really help us advance the public health and our knowledge of where we are with this outbreak. But I’ll let Dr Westergaard dig in a little bit.
Ryan Westergaard: (23:47)
Yeah, thanks. Good afternoon. This is Ryan Westergaard. I’d say the description is pretty good that when we have ongoing conversations with clinicians in the field, both in hospitals and urgent care settings, it seems like the testing that’s being done is in accordance with the strategy that we had, which was to make sure that most people who have severe illnesses requiring hospitalizations and people for whom the stakes are really high to know. Meaning they have comorbidities that make them likely to have severe illness and the volume of tests really reflect the number of people who have met those criteria. So in the next phase, how do we make use of that capacity and really get the public health value out of it? I think the one strategy is to be more deliberate about surveillance. So we don’t need to test everyone with respiratory symptoms, but if we can strategically understand how many people who have mild symptoms in certain areas of the state, are positive for COVID versus other things, we’ll have a better sense of the speed and direction of the epidemic.
Ryan Westergaard: (24:46)
So in the coming weeks and months, we want to really develop good strategies to sample people who don’t have severe symptoms, but we can know whether they’re infected. The other one of course is to be able to respond to outbreaks. And if there are areas where the epidemic is surging or going more quickly, we may need to have to test a large number of people. But right now I would say that we’re pleased on both fronts, that we have capacity and also that we haven’t had a very large surge that would stress that capacity. So we’re looking at ways to use these resources wisely in order to understand the epidemic and stay ahead of it as much as we can in the coming months.
Speaker 3: (25:22)
Thank you Sean. Now to Bob Hague from Wisconsin Radio Network, Bob. And a reminder, star six to unmute your phone. Bob Hague from Wisconsin Radio Network. Okay, we’ll move on then to Parker Shore from Wisconsin Watch, Parker.
Parker Shore: (25:47)
Hi, thank you. This question is for the governor. I’m wondering whether there are any plans to increase or endorse the compassionate releases, paroles or [crosstalk 00:25:53] or any other ways to-
Speaker 4: (25:52)
That was a live news conference from Governor Tony Evers and other Wisconsin leaders on their response to COVID19. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is now giving his update via phone. Let’s listen in live.
… Commissioner Steve Grove and new today, Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke. As a reminder, we ask reporters limit themselves to one question each with an on-topic followup and now I would like to turn it over to Governor Tim Walz.
Governor Tim Walz: (26:31)
Thanks Teddy. Good afternoon everyone. Good afternoon Minnesota. We’ll try and keep our rhythm where we’re short on the front end and leave as much time for questions as possible. But I did want to note as many of you know, I had the privilege of addressing Minnesotans in my second state of the state address. Very unusual, unlike last year of a full house at the Minnesota State Capitol. I was in the basement of my residence here. I also want to say thank you to all the folks who made that possible technologically and especially to the press for their willingness to do a lot of extra work to make that happen.
Governor Tim Walz: (27:08)
And as I promised last evening, one of the things was is to communicate decisions, explain when we change course and never stopped fighting alongside Minnesotans. And one of the ways that we are best able to do that is in these daily briefings. So once again to the members of the press, thank you for making transparency a hallmark of what we need to do, relaying on the ground observations and questions that allow us to see it through different perspectives. And then again, be able to communicate directly with Minnesotans. Today I want to just mention a couple of things we’re taking and making known. Starting today Minnesota veterans who are impacted by COVID19 can apply for financial assistant grants from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Commissioner Herke will be on later to be able to explain this in more detail, but this was great work done by the legislature partnership to get $6.2 million. And so veterans who raised their hand and served our nation and are now experiencing finan-
Governor Tim Walz: (28:03)
… veterans who raised their hand, served our nation and are now experiencing financial hardships from COVID-19 will be able to apply for these grants. The commissioner will give some specifics on that here in just a little bit.
Governor Tim Walz: (28:12)
I’d also like to announce today, led by lieutenant governor, Department of Human Rights, that we have launched a discrimination helpline, and then this is the helpline for folks to address. It’s unfortunate this is happening, but it still continues to happen. We’re still getting a way too many calls of xenophobia and racism, especially aimed at the Asian-American community because of COVID-19. I know that the vast majority out there are supporting their neighbors, doing what needs to be done, but this is a time for us to stand up and help our neighbors. We’ve got a very vibrant Asian community in Minnesota. One that has been here for an awful long time and to be unfairly targeted during this time just adds unnecessary stress. That number out there is (833) 454-0148 and we’ll be putting that online.
Governor Tim Walz: (29:05)
Just a couple of executive orders today, we did Executive Order 2028 which authorizes out-of-state mental health providers to treat Minnesotan patients via telehealth. Many are receiving that care. It’s a way that I worked quite some time ago when working with the VA in the delivery of mental health services. As these cross state lines, this will make sure that folks are able to continue to get the care that they need. Executive Order 2029 makes two amendments to the unemployment insurance issue. The first amendment provides the administrative fix to streamline applications. The second implements federal notification requirement to help Minnesotans qualify for the additional, the $600 on top of that.
Governor Tim Walz: (29:47)
These two changes actually speed up and will add about 45,000 folks who will now be eligible and it’ll cut down the wait time by months. Again, I’m very pleased with the work that’s being done in a very taxed situation over at the UI [inaudible 00:30:07] but they’re doing a great job with it.
Governor Tim Walz: (30:08)
Now I’ll turn it over to Commissioner Malcolm for some of the updates around the health side of this. Commissioner?
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (30:15)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon, everyone. I will be brief with the situation update, as I know you can find this data pretty easily online. But it is sobering to realize that globally, as of this morning, we had very close to 1.3 million cases of COVID around the world and over 70,000 deaths.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (30:34)
In the United States, we’re fast approaching 350,000 confirmed cases. We were at just under 340,000 this morning. 123,000 of those in the state of New York alone, and 67,500 in New York City alone. The United States is reporting over 9,600 deaths. Over 3000 of those in New York City alone.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (30:58)
Here in Minnesota, we are now at a total of 986 confirmed cases, confirmed via laboratory testing. That’s an increase of 51 over yesterday on a testing volume of about 1300 laboratory tests done yesterday. I’m sorry to say that we have confirmed one more COVID-19 death. We are now at 30 cumulatively. Our most recent neighbor lost was a 98-year-old Ramsey County resident who had been in an assisted-living facility. As of today, 470 patients had been released from isolation. Currently 115 patients in the hospital. As of today, 57 of those in intensive care.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (31:44)
In the future, we’re going to want to dig deeper into breaking down not only the cases but also the deaths by race and ethnicity, populations of color, American Indians because as is so true of just about every health issue we know the burden of COVID-19 does not fall evenly or equitably in all communities. We’ve just got some pretty high level data at this time, including this is all self-reported race and ethnicity data and a not-trivial part of the pie is unknown, as people are declining to identify by race. But we want to keep our eye on these dis-aggregated data. What we know of so far in terms of the breakdown of cases by race, 74% are white, just under 20% are either unknown or some other categorization of race other than the major categories, 6% of the total cases are black, 4% Asian or Pacific Islander, 1% American Indian or Alaska native. In terms of the deaths so far, 23 white, 1 Asian, 6 unknown at this time. I only point this out because, again, I think we want to keep an eye on being mindful of how the burden of illness is manifesting in specific communities and that will be important to look more closely at as time goes on.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (33:24)
I’d like to mention just a couple of things in addition, just a further word on our posting of specific congregate-care facilities, longterm-care facilities. I’m hearing a lot of concern from those longterm-care facilities about how people are interpreting the information that we are starting to share now about the cases in those facilities. I want to be really clear that having a facility on this list simply means they had a case either in a resident or a staffer or another person who was on site at the time they were infected. It does not mean that the facility is deficient in any way or has done something wrong any more than we would say there was something done wrong by a family with a household member that has a case.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (34:12)
I’m really concerned and disheartened to hear that some staff and facilities are feeling unfairly singled out and stigmatized by the release of this public data. I really would urge all of us to be thoughtful and careful about how we’re using this information and how we’re interpreting it. These are our most vulnerable residents and they’re feeling the brunt of this virus in terms of the health risks, the isolation that it’s meaning for them more than just about any of the rest of us. Without the care and the support of the staff who are working with them, we’re going to have an additional crisis on our hands. So I think it’s just incumbent on all of us to understand that these facilities are working very hard to protect their residents and their staff and we continue to work very closely with them to do everything possible to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (35:01)
However, with community transmission as it is, we should expect that many facilities will have cases just as many work settings and families and households around the state have had and will have cases. We know that the risk of COVID-19 is general and widespread across all of our communities and why it is so very important that we practice social distancing and take those other protective measures in all areas of society. We need to be doing everything we can to protect the residents, employees at these facilities in particular.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (35:33)
I’d like to also just comment on the growing public discussion about the wearing of masks among the general public. The federal government has issued some new guidance on this recently, but I’d like to just say a few additional points of clarification. We just want to keep reinforcing that people who are sick need to be staying home and isolating, not feeling like it’s safe to go out into the community just because they’re wearing a mask. In no way does this guidance to begin wearing a mask for source protection, in no way does that lessen the importance of the stay-at-home directives.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (36:12)
Secondly, masks can help with preventing your germs from infecting others, especially in situations where you might be shedding the virus without symptoms. Your mask protects me. My mask protects you. But these are not masks that protect the wearer from acquiring the illness. It’s just important that people understand what the mask is for and the fact that these masks are secondary protection. The primary protective measures as we keep stressing remain frequent hand washing, covering coughs and social distancing even when the weather starts to get beautiful. It’s going to be important to still be careful about social distancing.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (36:56)
I hope I’m still speaking to you. That was interesting. But we want to also just make a point of saying that, again, just to repeat, that for the public who might want to begin wearing masks as a way of protecting others, it’s so critical that you don’t try to buy or wear surgical masks or n95 masks. These are critical supplies that are needed in our healthcare facilities to protect our healthcare workers and our longterm-care workers and critical first responders. Please, if you are going to wear a mask, it would be great if you could just find cloth masks or look to make your own masks. We do have some specific information on how to do that on our website.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (37:50)
Finally, I want to just thank all Minnesotans, as the governor has done, for everything that you are doing. We really collectively are doing a good job of staying home to help slow the spread of COVID-19. We’re hearing some concerns, however, from hospitals across the state about situations in which people with other very urgent health concerns appear not to be calling 911 or coming into the emergency department right away if you’re having symptoms of a stroke or heart attack. Certainly we’re hearing this across the nation, not just here in Minnesota. We understand that people might be leery and worried about exposure if they go into the healthcare system subject to COVID-19. We really want to make sure that Minnesotans are not delaying care for serious conditions.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (38:37)
Please, if you are having any medical emergency, it’s important to call 911, just as you always have. This could include severe bleeding won’t stop, breathing difficulties including known asthma or allergies, anaphylaxis, sudden loss of consciousness, signs of a stroke or heart attack. Delaying or not seeking treatment for these kinds of things can indeed be life threatening. It’s just important to say even with all of the activity happening right now in preparation for the expected surge of COVID-19, our healthcare system is standing ready, is prepared, is equipped to safely treat patients experiencing any medical emergencies.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm: (39:17)
Thank you very much for your attention to those important public health messages for today. With that, I’ll turn it over to Director Joe Kelly.
Joe Kelly: (39:28)
Thank you, Commissioner. Hello again, Minnesota. The news of the governor sending a request through FEMA to the president asking for a major disaster declaration had been widely reported on over the weekend. When approved, that declaration will provide assistance to the state in addition to what’s already been available under the current national emergency. Specifically, it opens up some reimbursement opportunities for assistance to individuals and families and we expect a response soon and we’ll let you know as soon as we hear back from the federal government. Our team is in very close contact with FEMA. They assigned a senior liaison officer to Minnesota and we communicate with him daily. In fact, multiple times every day and he’s been very helpful on a number of important projects including the use of the National Guard and a request that we’re currently working on to get approval of our medical-sheltering plan.
Joe Kelly: (40:22)
My key contact at FEMA is the regional administrator in Chicago. The country has 10 FEMA regions and we’re part of a six state, upper-Midwest region. The regional administrator previously served as a state director within the Midwest, so I know him very well, which makes communications and coordination much easier and much more efficient. Like most things in life, relationships do matter and we have a good one with FEMA within our region.
Joe Kelly: (40:50)
FEMA has always been a key partner in disaster response and recovery. I know firsthand sometimes they have a reputation of being overly-bureaucratic and confusing at times to work with, but I think it’s important for us to remember that that agency has provided hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to help Minnesota. By that, I mean our families, our cities, our counties, tribal governments, state agencies and our non-private partners help make us financially strong after an incident. I’m confident they’ll be there for us again.
Joe Kelly: (41:27)
To this point, they’ve committed to providing 75% reimbursement of our eligible expenses that are related directly to COVID-19 response. Some programs have higher reimbursement rates. I think it’s important for Minnesotans to understand that that federal assistance is not limited to a dollar amount but will be determined most importantly by the eligibility of the costs.
Joe Kelly: (41:50)
I want to thank the state’s GIS and information technology experts for helping support the public website for COVID-19 the governor rolled out last week. They can do techie things I don’t even understand.
Joe Kelly: (42:03)
Last week. They can do techie things I don’t even understand, but my agency’s contribution was to build and maintain the data behind the Minnesota COVID-19 dashboard. That’s the button on the left side of the page about halfway down, and since that website was turned on, Minnesotans have clicked on it more than 350,000 times on that one button. That tells me there’s value for the information that’s behind there for Minnesotans, and I thank our team for making it available to you.
Joe Kelly: (42:34)
At this point, I’ll turn the mic over to Commissioner Steve Grove with the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Commissioner.
Steve Grove: (42:43)
Thank you, Doctor Kelly. Good afternoon, everybody. Wanted to share some updates on our state’s unemployment insurance system, which has become such a central focus for us as the Department of Employment and Economic Development to help workers who are really struggling right now, separated from their jobs either temporarily or permanently, and stressed out and needing support, and so we’ve just focused all of our attention on making sure that program can meet the needs of Minnesotans.
Steve Grove: (43:07)
We have processed initial weekly payment requests for more than 90% of new or reactivated applications since March 16, but the numbers continues to climb as you’d expect. We are now at 120,000 more applicants for unemployment insurance in the last three weeks than we had in all of 2019, so it is a pretty unprecedented volume. And just to give you the latest statistics, as of last night, we’ve now taken in, figuring the 42,043 unemployment insurance applications since March 16th, last Friday we had 18,342 and yesterday, Sundays we are open for limited applications, we saw under those 3,939. So the numbers do keep rising, and this week we really want to double down on our commitment to customer service so we can get people what they need and get the money that they deserve into their bank accounts as soon as possible.
Steve Grove: (44:00)
So as the Governor mentioned, we’re first of all taking steps just to streamline our process, and there’s a really common eligibility issue in our state’s unemployment insurance program that the Executive Order the Governor released today, 2029, that’s out to take care of. So, but this executive order, we are no longer required to delay benefits for people who are taking vacation, sick pay or personal time off when they apply for unemployment insurance. And this is going to be so critical. We got about 45,000 qualified workers who are just stuck in our application queue right now because they’ve applied, they’re eligible say for the fact that they have a vacation or sick pay issue in play, and so by clearing those up, we’re going to issue payments to 45,000 people who are stuck in our queue right now far faster than we could have before. It’s a really critical move for the Governor to have made and several other States have done similar executive orders along the same line.
Steve Grove: (44:56)
The second piece of Executive Order 2029 allows us to prepare to be able to issue the additional $600 per week of benefits that the federal government passed to through the Cares Act. It’s a simple procedural thing, but essentially we have to require businesses in our state to inform workers of the existence of unemployment insurance. And if we’ve done that, which the Executive Order does, we are then eligible to issue those payments.
Steve Grove: (45:20)
I will just say that that doesn’t mean that starting tomorrow we’ll be issuing those payments. We are still waiting on guidance from the federal government on drawing down that funding from the Department of Labor into our system. But we are in conversations daily with them and as soon as they provide us that guidance, and thanks to this Executive Order from the Governor today, we will be set to issue those payments. So we’re moving as quickly as we can on that, and as soon as they get further guidance from the feds, we’ll be set to go.
Steve Grove: (45:46)
So that’s a big thing that we’re doing today to streamline applications. The second thing that we’re doing, and it’s related to the first, is that we’re reopening up our information line. And the reason it’s related to the first is that our information lines have been pretty packed with these workers who are dialing in, these 45,000 workers who are dialing in trying to figure out why they’re stuck in the application queue. By clearing some of that out, we hope to open up more time for our call center to help workers who need assistance with applications.
Steve Grove: (46:11)
So we do have our info line open again today. Similar to how we’re trudging things out for the social security number schedule for applying for unemployment insurance benefits, we’re also going to designate certain days and certain questions can be answered on our information lines, too. So if you have a question about your account itself, you can call between Monday and Thursday between 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM. If you need help with your application, you can call on Friday between 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM, and if you have an issue with your password, you can call anytime during normal business hours.
Steve Grove: (46:45)
Those password issues are some of the trickiest and we want to be available at all times for people with those issues. Call times are still going to be long. You’re still going to be waiting on the phone for longer than you would like, but we’re hoping that this will speed that up a little bit, and as always, there’s just a ton of information on uimn.org. It’s always the best place to start. We update those FAQs daily, and we really ask people to start there, and if your friend or your family has a problem, start there with them and help guide them through the process online.
Steve Grove: (47:13)
And then lastly, again, just in this effort to really provide the best customer service we can to Minnesotans in this time of struggle, we are adding additional resources to the UI program as well. We’ve now translated all of our federal and local guidance into Hmong, Somali and Spanish, and there are other translatable resources there as well using small men applications. All of that is linked to on our website at uimn.org.
Steve Grove: (47:40)
So the team itself continues to expand our hours too where we’re putting in lots of hours of overtime. We got 50 new staff helping manage calls, and a big area of focus for us now is how do we implement these provisions of the Cares Act, this new federal guidance that we’ve gotten, and we are on pace on all the technical aspects of that in terms of getting our platform ready. We really are just waiting for the guidance pieces from the federal government to be able to kick those additional benefits into gear. One of them that a lot of people ask about, and I want to address it here because it comes up so often and for good reason, is this additional benefits for independent contractors and self-employed individuals who may be eligible for aid under the pandemic unemployment insurance act.
Steve Grove: (48:20)
This is a great step the federal government has taken. If you are a self-employed individual or an independent contractor, please apply now for unemployment insurance. Getting your account into the system, getting your name on our docket, even though you’ll be issued a denial now, you need to be ready to go as soon as we can get that additional guidance, so we can issue a payment as soon as the federal government gives us the go ahead and gives us the clarity on how to issue those payments. So if you’re a self-employed, if you’re an independent contractor, no time like the present to apply now. Don’t be dismayed by the denial letter you’ll get because that’s the natural way UI works today. But getting yourself in the system means that you’ll be ready to go as soon as that federal guidance comes. If you’ve already applied and you’ve been denied, you don’t have to do anything new. We will proactively reach out to you once that federal guidance lands.
Steve Grove: (49:08)
So lots of updates on UI today, but I wanted to share those things because for so many Minnesotans, this is just such a critical platform or critical source of income.
Steve Grove: (49:15)
Last, just wanted to continue to thank the Minnesota business community who is doing amazing things on a daily basis to help our efforts to fight COVID. The latest story we heard was from a pair of, or actually three different distilleries in the Twin Cities metro area, Tattersall Distillery, Du Nord Craft Spirits, and Brother Justus Whiskey who have stopped producing spirits and started producing hand sanitizer. They produced 35,000 gallons of hand sanitizer this month by rejiggering their production lines, and they’ve launched a campaign on allhandsmn.org where you can go in, apply to get that hand sanitizer.
Steve Grove: (49:49)
Most of the time it’s going to be free, and just a great way to use their expertise in production to provide a critical supply chain item for our COVID-19 efforts. And so we thank those distilleries for their hard work. With that, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, Commissioner Larry Herke at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Larry.
Larry Herke: (50:08)
Thank you, Commissioner Grove, and good afternoon to veterans in Minnesota. I think many of you know that Minnesota has always taken care of its veterans, and we continue to do so during this challenging time. As the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, I want you to know that we’re open for business, and we’re ready to help and assist you, and that my staff is available to support our veterans and their families. Virtually, we continue to process applications for support for the state assistance program, and the Minnesota GI Bill, and the SOAR program. And in person, we are caring for veterans in the five Minnesota veterans homes. We’re assisting at our three states veterans cemeteries, and we’re working priorities such as ending veterans’ homelessness. For the grants program the Governor talked about earlier, we want to say thank you both the Governor and legislature for providing 6.2 million in support to Minnesota veterans in the recently enacted COVID-19 response package. These funds will be available to eligible veterans and their families who have been in financially impacted by COVID-19. We are accepting applications for both disaster relief grants for $1,000, and also special needs grants up to $3000, and that starts today. Applicants must be a veteran or surviving spouse. The deceased veteran is defined by Minnesota statute, oneword.org/ covidrelief, and to apply for a special needs grant, the veterans should call their county veterans service officer who have been trained how to submit special needs grants on their behalf.
Larry Herke: (51:44)
I know that many veterans are proud and may be hesitant to ask for help, but I encourage you to apply for this financial assistance if you need it. We are here to help. And finally a reminder to veterans that if you’re feeling ill, please call your local VA healthcare system first before going in person. The phone numbers for the four VA healthcare systems are listed on our website, again, at minnesotaveteran.org. The VA medical centers will then provide direction on what you should do next. And with that I want to hand it back to Governor Walls.
Governor Tim Walz: (52:17)
Thanks, Commissioner Herke, and all the commissioners, and with that, operator will be glad to take questions.