Mar 20, 2020
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz March 20 Coronavirus Briefing Transcript
Minnesota governor Tim Walz gave a March 20 COVID-19 news briefing for the state of Minnesota. Read the transcript here.
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Governor Walz: (00:00)
…businesses be eligible for the disaster assistance in an economic injury. We will hear back from them. I want to talk about recent actions that we moved on through executive action or the authority in the already existing statute. We took the move to support businesses by announcing a 30 day sales tax that moved businesses sales tax back. I know you heard today, and we will follow suit obviously with the state, where income tax filings, income tax payments are due July 15th with no penalty or no interest. I think it should be noted, those Minnesotans who can receive and should receive a refund should file as soon as possible and the federal government is telling us those will be processed as quickly as possible.
Governor Walz: (00:45)
Yesterday also, at the request of many of our health partners, I signed an executive order 20-09 to delay elective surgeries. This procedure is ordered to conserve our healthcare resources and reduce contact with patients and providers. It’s overwhelming the new acronym or the new letters everybody’s learning during COVID-19 is PPE, personal protective equipment. And what we have been able to do, and Commissioner Malcolm will expand on that, we’re coordinating across that supply chain now and we are having all of our partners be able to inventory what they have so that we have a sight picture on the burn rate of what’s out there. When you keep hearing this, that there’s a shortage of this, we want to know exactly when a healthcare system or a hospital is going to run out of that gear to make sure that we’re feeling out that we can move from the state to resupply those. We have been waiting for the strategic national stockpile to no avail at this point in time, so we are moving those things accordingly and have been simultaneously in the event that that will happen.
Governor Walz: (01:45)
So we’re getting a much better picture of where we’re at. Those needs are great. From the testing to the PPE, they’re still needed. The good news is in Minnesota is the collaboration and the cooperation that’s being built up and the new teams that have been stood up are in real time coordinating and moving things where we need them. So I can say at this point in time we’re getting a much better handle across the healthcare system.
Governor Walz: (02:09)
We also requested the President, I’m part of a 10 member panel of governors appointed by the President, which is the council of governors that deals with natural disasters, Homeland Security and The National Guard. And we are asking the federal government, for the listeners that are out there, The National Guard has a dual mission. It has a state mission that the governor, myself, is the commander in chief and directs the orders to that.
Governor Walz: (02:35)
Those are usually in training missions. They can be for natural disasters, flooding, tornadoes and so forth. And then they have another mission that’s called Title 10 that allows them to be federalized for federal service if they’re taken either to Iraq or Afghanistan or any missions worldwide. We’re asking them to allow us to activate our National Guard, which I can do at any time. We do not need the federal government for activation, but I want to be able to activate them in something called a Title 32, section 502F. And what that does is it allows for state duty but with the federal government footing the bill. Because these are all going to be things that fall back on state governments that once again cannot run deficit spending and cannot absorb all the resources necessary. So this is where we’re asking for help from the federal government.
Governor Walz: (03:23)
Update on actions today. My top priority is always the protection and the security of Minnesotan citizens. I do want to take a moment and address this because I was on the phone with diverse groups of CEOs, from construction contractors to manufacturers to the CEO of Barnes and Noble, and the concerns… And I first of all want to thank the industries that they’re stepping up, they’re taking care of their workers, but they’re also thinking about what comes after. How do we do this? How do we keep operating? I just want to reiterate that this is not a false dichotomy that you’re choosing here. If you choose the safety of Minnesotans, you’re intentionally trying to hurt the economy. It is not that simple. We’re trying to take all of the variables into consideration and I know many industries like the big three auto makers have already made the decision to move forward to shut down their operations.
Governor Walz: (04:18)
We are trying to balance this in real time and trying to listen to those employers that are out there and the concerns that they have. And it’s interesting because by listening to them you do really hear a unique perspective and I would use the example of Barnes and Noble, of people saying, “Well, what’s the big deal?” Barnes and Nobles business is up at this time. Even at a time when they’re closing, because I think many of you would understand the sociology behind this. People are stocking up on books. The number one thing people are buying are educational books or children’s books to make sure they keep their kids. That is exactly what people should be doing.
Governor Walz: (04:54)
But their question was what happens if we have to close? Would we be considered an essential service where in our large stores we could still fill orders online and deliver them to the curb for people to be able to continue to educate their children and to get the entertainment during this time? Those are interesting questions and ones that we are taking into consideration before any decisions are made.
Governor Walz: (05:19)
Couple other things we’re going to do, and I want to thank the Attorney General Ellison is here. The Attorney General forecasted, I believe before I was hearing much people think about this angle of it, that while the vast majority of people’s basic human nature and decency would come through, there would be a few of those that would try and prey on people, especially the vulnerable at a time of disruption. And one of the things is is people doing price gouging. Minnesota is one of the few states that doesn’t have a price gouging law in place and we’re going to take a look to make sure, we’ve been working with the Attorney General, to make sure it doesn’t happen here. Today I signed an executive order to prohibit price gouging during peacetime emergency.
Governor Walz: (06:01)
I want to thank the Attorney General and his folks working on the proper language on this, making sure, again, we’re protecting citizens but we’re protecting legitimate vendors who are selling things the way that they should. We were seeing hand sanitizer average for $60 a bottle. Others were hocking $1 a squirt for hand sanitizer, and these things are real. That’s not how we are. Many of them can come from out of state and this gives the state and the Attorney General the ability to crack down. So thank you for that. And I want to thank again the care providers on the front line and all of the peripheral issues on this.
Governor Walz: (06:39)
Commissioner Harpstead is here with us today from the Department of Human Services and identified very early as far as last Friday, we sent over legislation to the House last Wednesday and the Senate, which they worked on and while they came to some language, we weren’t able to get it passed through them, but we are able to via executive order be able to move some of the flexibility for DHS to be able to secure those human services necessary.
Governor Walz: (07:04)
Some of them had to be with waiving Medicaid rules to allow for mental health consultations that might not be done face to face that could be done. Or re-upping people’s status, instead of having them come in and personally fill out something, be able to re-up their status so their prescriptions would be able to continue. Just smart things that happen. And then what we’re doing also is is that we are extending the a special period for MNsure enrollment. The special enrollment period starts this Monday, March 23rd and ends on April 21st. Want to thank the folks at MNsure and the health plans for stepping up here. Everybody is doing their part. Also a great example why it’s important for us to have our own state-based exchange because this would have been a problem at this point in time. We’re able to work around it. We’re able to get people into the exchange.
Governor Walz: (07:54)
And then I want to talk about the childcare piece of this. And you’ll hear more of this from Deputy Commissioner Mueller when we go forward. Amazing things happening in our schools. 89,000 meals being served that you’ll hear about, 5,100 and some children being served of our first responders and our healthcare professionals. And this childcare one is that we feel like we’re on the frontline of this and we’re always trying to adjust to that. And so one of the things I want to say is, is the folks that are stepping up, and today I’m proud to share with you that the YMCA is stepping up in a big way to help our family. Starting this coming Monday, the 23rd of March, the 38 YMCAs across Minnesota will open their doors to school age kids, age K through six, and provide care and distant learning support in coordination with their local schools.
Governor Walz: (08:47)
This is a huge collaborative effort. It’s one where folks are stepping into the void and asking what they can do to help to make sure that’s there. So if you’ve got other children and things are happening and your unable or you want your children to be in a safe setting with social distancing, that’s what we’re going to do. I would also like to say is that I’m a proud member of the Midway YMCA and you make me proud the way you’re stepping up.
Governor Walz: (09:11)
FEMA now is our lead agency and this is a new development that came out. We were just talking and you’ll hear from Joe Kelly, our emergency management director, that this simplifies the process. We have great confidence in FEMA in that our local partners, we’ve worked with them before. We work with them almost every year on flooding, on other natural disasters. We were on the phone this morning with a regional director, James Joseph out of the Chicago office. They are coordinating, they are on top of our requests. We are hopeful that this will break the log jam around PPE. They are also our coordinator to help us with some of the things around federal issues like the 502F issue around The National Guard. So I’m incredibly hopeful that that’s moving in the right direction.
Governor Walz: (09:59)
So the update of where we’re at, some of the moves that we’ve made statewide, the conversations that we’re having amongst diverse groups of folks. And I will say this, I had an extensive and very productive conversation, Commissioner Malcolm and I, with the nine CEOs of our largest healthcare systems on coordination and what we’re doing. I can’t stress again how blessed we are in Minnesota to have such a vibrant and robust healthcare system that’s out there. One that’s working very closely to us and one that we are listening to to prepare for the future. And with that, I’d like to get a little bit of in depth [inaudible 00:10:41] and we’ll come back for the question and answer, but I want to turn it over to the Department of Health’s Director of Infectious Disease, Chris Harrisman to give us some updates.
Chris Harrisman: (10:50)
Thank you Governor. Let me start by saying globally we are at more than 246,000 cases and 10,000 deaths. The United States has reported more than 14,000 confirmed cases and 205 deaths as of this morning. In Minnesota, as the Governor said, we added 26 new laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 today, for a total of 115 cases. The age range of our cases remains the same at 17 years to 94 years. We have not yet had any cases in children. New cases are from the following counties; Hennepin, Ramsey, Chisago, Fillmoore, Olmsted, Martin, Scott and Rice counties.
Chris Harrisman: (11:38)
I want to emphasize that while we want to be transparent in providing data about counties where cases reside, this should not be construed to mean that counties that do not have cases are safe or that the 115 cases represent the absolute number of cases of COVID-19 in the state. We have evidence of community transmission in Minnesota. This means that COVID-19 is-
Chris Harrisman: (12:03)
… Transmission in Minnesota. This means that Covid-19 is circulating in all of our communities. Our public health laboratory tested 118 people yesterday, and to date we’ve tested nearly 4,000 persons since the lab began testing on March 1st. I want to make sure that the public knows that the vast majority of Covid-19 cases are recovering at home. To date, 8 of the 115 cases have been hospitalized. Not everyone who has Covid-19 is in critical condition, though as you’ve heard, we are planning to make sure that we are prepared to care for all those that need it.
Chris Harrisman: (12:41)
I’ve gotten questions about our message about stay home when you’re sick. What does that mean? I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify. As a state, we have implemented a number of community mitigation measures, limiting gathering size, closing schools for planning, closing bars and restaurants and other venues, and canceling elective procedures. These are all designed to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Chris Harrisman: (13:07)
However, if people who are sick continue to go to work and go out in public and spend time with others, they are undermining all we as a community are trying to accomplish. Our message to stay home when you’re sick is for these people. When do you seek medical care? If you have a fever and respiratory symptoms and can manage them at home, you should. If you would not have called your healthcare provider last October when Covid-19 was not circulating, you don’t need to do so now. It is not necessary to have a Covid-19 diagnosis. The recommendations for staying out of public are the same for any respiratory illness at this time, and there is no treatment for Covid-19 outpatients, so a diagnosis would not inform your provider to prescribe a medication.
Chris Harrisman: (13:58)
If you’re having difficulty breathing or any other urgent symptoms, you should of course seek medical care as you would at any other time. Persons who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions and are at higher risk of severe Covid-19 disease should contact their healthcare provider if they have symptoms. Your provider can help you assess your health in light of your underlying medical conditions.
Chris Harrisman: (14:23)
I wanted to speak to laboratory testing. The Minnesota Department of Public Health laboratory is prioritizing specimens for those in the highest risk groups. We want to make sure that we as a public health agency always have the capacity to test these individuals, that is individuals who are hospitalized, healthcare workers, and those in congregate living settings. However, the specimens that we have received that do not fall into this category will be tested. They have not been thrown away as some are claiming. They’re being tested as we are able based on supplies and prioritizing the high risk samples. MDH has prioritized who we will test. However, healthcare providers can use private laboratories as they come online to test others. The availability of laboratory testing has been a moving target across the state and nationally. Health systems are reluctant to test outpatients as they too want to preserve tests for those at highest risk, and as more supplies become available access to testing should improve. Thank you.
Governor Walz: (15:29)
Thank you so much. Now we’ll hear from our Emergency Manager, Director Joe Kelly.
Joe Kelly: (15:37)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon everybody. I want to talk just a little bit to start just a little bit to talk about what [inaudible 00:15:45] do in the state emergency operations center, as soon as I figure out how to run the microphone.
Joe Kelly: (15:55)
Thank you. Thank you, sir. Let me start all over. I’m Joe Kelly. I’m the state Emergency Management Director. I want to talk for just a few minutes about what we do in the State Emergency Operations Center. Most Minnesotans probably aren’t familiar with it. It’s a facility that’s hosted by the Department of Public Safety and it really serves as a single point of coordination for state government, and as the Governor pointed out, our interaction with the Federal government.
Joe Kelly: (16:22)
The State Emergency Operation Center is fully activated, and is staffed by all of the state agencies that can help with this incident. We are focused on a couple of things, making sure that we can continue to provide critical services to our citizens. That means our state workforce as well as the systems that people rely on for services. We are working with our federal partners, whether it’s FEMA, health and human services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et cetera to support the response and mitigation efforts that are ongoing.
Joe Kelly: (16:58)
We are communicating. In fact, we had a couple of conference calls this afternoon. We are communicating with local and tribal emergency management directors and public health officials, because we need to tell them what we’re doing for them, and more importantly we need to hear how we can support their efforts. The Governor mentioned that personal protective equipment is a particularly important commodity during this incident. We are trying to acquire more. As the Governor said, there’s stuff coming in from the strategic national stockpile. We’re also trying to go out in a supply chain and buy some more things, things like masks that protect people from droplets. That’s a challenge right now. We are not trying to supplant or divert people away from their normal supply chains where they get materials, but we’re trying to provide that backstop, that emergency supply if they run out.
Joe Kelly: (17:56)
Finally, we are seeking and trying to strengthen connections across all of Minnesota, both public and private. We talk about how it takes a whole community to get through an incident like this, not just government at all of the levels in the private sector, voluntary organizations, and then ultimately it gets down to individual households and families. We need to all work together. I’ll give an example of that as I wrap up.
Joe Kelly: (18:28)
We’re talking about volunteers. There’s a need right now for volunteers in the food bank and food shelf systems, so I ask you if you are available to help that you consider helping out at a regional food bank or at a local food shelf. That’s an example of how we are all going to work together to get in Minnesotans through this crisis. In the coming days we’ll give you a little more update on what it is that we’re doing in the state emergency operation center. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Walz: (18:55)
Thank you, Director Kelly. Commissioner Grove with an update on the economic sides of things, specifically UI.
Director Grove: (19:00)
Thank you, Governor. Hello everybody. I want to give a brief update on how our economy is doing. The most effective way to do that is to talk a little bit about the state’s unemployment insurance program. As you saw earlier this week, the Governor has opened up that program to any worker who was affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, so we’ve seen of course an influx of calls and applications into our state’s unemployment insurance program. So far, as of 8:00 PM last night, we’ve seen 95,352 applicants to unemployment insurance in Minnesota. Just to give you some context, the previous record in a given week was about 18,000, so these are some pretty historic numbers. About a third of the individuals applying thus far have come from the restaurants, bar, and entertainment industry, that’s 36,942, and about 85% of the people applying right now have never been on unemployment insurance before, so they’re learning about this new system, the benefits, how it works, why it matters.
Director Grove: (19:56)
A brief overview of that is simply the unemployment insurance pays you roughly half of your usual weekly wages up for maximum of $740, and benefits last up to 26 weeks. So we are working hard to meet the need of Minnesotans during this difficult time. I checked in with the team today, and the hourly call volume is down a little bit. We’ve been getting, I think a total of about 15,000 calls this week on our call line. We really encourage people to use the website, UIMN.Org, much better experience, no wait time at all obviously, and a lot easier for us to process.
Director Grove: (20:27)
The team in our UI division or Unemployment Insurance division has been working very hard. Usually we are closed on weekends, but they scrambled together to get an extra Sunday shift in this weekend. So people who can apply this Sunday from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM and get unemployment insurance benefits on the website at that time.
Director Grove: (20:47)
So we will have by next Monday a new call center with 50 more people answering the phones to try to decrease those wait times on the phone, and we just encourage all businesses and workers to continue to look at this program as one option. We know that so many businesses are doing other unique things to help their workers, personal time off, sick time off. We were on the phone this morning with the CEO of Red Wing boots who has generously given 120 hours of personal time off to his workers over there in Red Wing waiting to take care of their children and their family while they’re simultaneously ramping up production of steel toed boots to help emergency workers across the state. So we hear stories like this all day long at different businesses who are doing the best they can to help in this challenging time, and state government wants to do the same. So, that’s it for an update from the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Governor.
Governor Walz: (21:35)
Thank you, Commissioner. Deputy Commissioner Mueller from Minnesota Department of Education.
Heather Mueller: (21:41)
Thank you, Governor Walz. Thank you everyone. I’m Heather Mueller, Deputy Commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Education, and I’d like to-
Speaker 1: (21:47)
Can you [crosstalk 00:21:47] your mic?
Heather Mueller: (21:47)
Yes, thank you. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our state agencies for really lifting up and supporting our students and families and ensuring that throughout our communities that we continue to work toward their safety and their health and wellbeing. As the Governor alluded to, our educators throughout the state have been committed to ensuring that our families have and students have the food that they need as well as the healthcare that we need, the childcare support that we need for our healthcare workers and our first responders. And yesterday, as an example of just a snapshot of one day, we had 118,238 meals served as well as 5,190 students who are school age, who are in our schools getting the support they needed so that our healthcare workers in our first responders could attend to the needs of our community.
Heather Mueller: (22:37)
This is just one aspect that we believe is a really important component to the statewide response to Covid-19, and we appreciate the work that they have done and we know that they’re also preparing for the distance learning so that we know that education matters and we know that them having the opportunity every single day to have access to an online environment or some type of environment that has a distance component, it gives students that opportunity to maintain their routines, continue to build their relationships, to have interaction with other caring adults who believe in them and they trust, and gives them the opportunity to also continue their high quality education that we’ve come to know and expect in the state of Minnesota.
Heather Mueller: (23:17)
The other thing that we’ve had the opportunity to identify is the Federal government within the last hour has said that there is the opportunity to have a federal waiver for assessments, and that is something that the state of Minnesota will be seeking the waiver for the accountability requirements for statewide testing for the 2019-2020 school year. Thank you.
Governor Walz: (23:37)
Thank you, Deputy Commissioner. While this is an unprecedented event and you’re seeing the multitude, and this is a snapshot of the most pressing issues across state government, the thing to keep in mind, for Minnesotans to keep in mind, there are systems and protocols that work. There are systems and protocols that have run. Us looking at our schools as a way to provide meals, to continue to provide nutrition with that system built in place, is proving to be …
Governor Walz: (24:03)
-continue to provide nutrition with that system built in place is proving to be incredibly valuable. The ability to use that and partner with things like the YMCA to step up childcare for those emergency responders, because no matter what the situation develops into, we’re still going to have to take care of those basic needs, those basic services, the same way we’re thinking about trying to make sure that the food supply in the food chain stays uninterrupted.
Governor Walz: (24:26)
The thing I would say that we need to guard against: rumors, misinformation. We need to understand that there will be changing data. That’s one of the reasons standing up this event and using the trusted websites where you get information about what’s happening in Minnesota so that we keep people in a place where they understand there are systems, there are protocols, there are people there and Minnesotans take care of one another. So I can tell you that will not change.
Governor Walz: (24:54)
And I’d like to say that as people are thinking about this, the data behind the pandemic, while this is new to many of us, there are experts in the field. They’ve seen this, some of them were contained like Ebola as it’s risen, it’s up since the 1970s at different times, and historical pandemics. So there are certain trajectories and certain numbers that can be followed with pretty strong mathematical accuracy and then interventions.
Governor Walz: (25:18)
So I understand clearly when people are calling, some of the decisions that made may seem incredibly counterintuitive. Saying we don’t have a case in our county and our restaurants are small, why can’t we have someone there? The protocols that are put in place are based on the best data and the best practices possible. And one of the things that we know is in more rural areas we have even fewer healthcare facilities. We have an older population and our risk factors are even higher. So I understand that everything seems to strike counter-intuitively against us, but this pandemic and the numbers and best guidance that’s coming out are predicated on having a much more positive outcome because it is not guaranteed. If we step back and did nothing, there is a worst case scenario trajectory that would more than likely play itself out.
Governor Walz: (26:10)
And for those who are listening saying so many people are going to get this and get better. That is absolutely true, but so many people and the disruption it causes in our healthcare system. Will be enough that even the usual rhythm of a medical facility for births, for gallbladders, for heart attacks, for falling and breaking a hip. All of those things have to enter into this system too. And in a state of 5.7 million people, there’s a lot of just usual.
Governor Walz: (26:45)
So the capacity in our hospitals and the use of them is built that you don’t have a whole lot of open beds or a whole lot of physicians or nurses not doing anything. They’re all working. So when you surge into that system in a catastrophe, that’s where the pressure comes from. So I hear people out there. I understand how this strikes against what feels like, and a term I hear a lot of, is common sense. I’m not going to pretend to have the corner on that, but I can tell you if you want to use that term, wash your hands, common sense. Don’t cough on people, common sense. Stay home if you’re sick, common sense. And stay home, Minnesota. That’s one that we can agree on, that the data shows us will make this less severe, put less pressure on our healthcare system, keep more people safe, and get us back and our economy back in a quicker manner.
Governor Walz: (27:42)
With that, I’d be glad to answer any questions. Tom.
Governor, you know The governor of California did last night, large cities have done the same thing, the shelter in place order. How seriously are you considering that in Minnesota? And secondarily, do you think the president should order that nationally?
Governor Walz: (28:00)
Well, I can’t speak for the president, but I have said this, I think that certainly localities are going to have a lot to do with this, but a national strategy helps from keeping what ends up being a patchwork quilt. I think the good news on this is governors are coordinating correctly. If there’s not a federal response, there’s certainly an article of confederation response because I’m on with several governors multiple times during the day.
Governor Walz: (28:24)
And I think it’s important now to be clear when people hear this and I’m getting calls from people across the spectrum of folks that I know in business don’t do this, do this, do this. What I can assure Minnesotans is we are looking at the data, we are trying to get it as transparently and as real time out to you, making the best informed decisions that will have an impact on flattening the curve.
Governor Walz: (28:49)
And what I can tell you at this time that again, I think we’re starting to see this, there were some people surprised that a week ago Friday I said we weren’t prepared to close schools. Monday we were. Monday I said we’re not prepared at this time to close businesses, but we’re looking at it like bars. So I can tell you this, that I at this point in time was not prepared and am not prepared to make that. But I am prepared at some time in the future if it becomes necessary with the data and where we’re at to make that decision.
Governor Walz: (29:19)
And I think what you’ve seen out of this team before those decisions are made as many of the contingencies, and I’ll be just candid with you, we can’t think of all of them. We’re doing the best we can. But for example with school closings to make sure there was a place for meals and daycare before we announced it. And as you’re seeing because that decision was made, we are serving those people.
Governor Walz: (29:42)
Same thing before we were going to close bars and restaurants, I needed to have the capacity to provide unemployment insurance immediately, and I needed to make sure I could waive that waiting period, so checks start arriving next week for people to continue on. I will tell you that that same decision-making process is in place with this. I understand that just I believe since we came in here that Governor Pritzker of Illinois has made this decision. You’re going to see this start to happen. I think states are at different positions along the spectrum of this. The testing capacity we have and some of the modeling that we are now doing with experts both inside government, with the University of Minnesota, and outside government is giving us a better picture.
Governor Walz: (30:23)
So my pledge to you Minnesotans is to understand and I want to make clear to employees, employers, and everyone, this is an unprecedented decision that has not happened in our country, that these either mayors or governors are making. They are doing it with the best information possible to save lives. And you can rest assured here that Minnesota is well-positioned with experts in infectious disease. It’s almost every night, most of the guests are from Minnesota that are on addressing the nation about what needs to be done. Next.
Is there a hard threshold for you that will stem that decision to shelter in place order, and if you do make that order, will the newspapers be considered essential?
Governor Walz: (31:14)
Could I get the last part Dana?
If you do make that order to shelter in place, would newspapers be considered [crosstalk 00:31:25]?
Governor Walz: (31:28)
I’ll take the last one. The question was, and I think this is one that my team is addressing and I saw this came out from the newspaper association and journalists in general, this idea of the media being essential services. I’ll say yes, that yes I do believe it is. I believe that the service you’re providing, we are not quite prepared or not quite have that worked up, but I think you can certainly expect that in that situation if not sooner.
Governor Walz: (31:51)
And the issue was on the metrics of the shelter in place and as we’re gathering more data, how do you make this decision? It certainly needs to be predicated on the best science. Some of it is going to be extrapolating from what’s happened in other States to determine if that’s the time. What I’ve asked my team to do and in the last 72 hours we have gotten really good at this.
Governor Walz: (32:14)
I’m getting run ups in the morning that show me, as I said earlier, exactly how many masks are at Mayo Clinic, how many are in the Fairview system, what’s the number of patients coming in and what is the spread in the community? All of those different factors, as they get to a point, and you can see every single map, every single map, if it can look like this and not like the hockey stick, and I guess I would say that the science and the best estimates that we can have is to bend it before it starts bending up that curve.
Governor Walz: (32:52)
And so those are the things we’re looking at. Do I wish there were a checklist? It said when you hit this, this, this, this, this, now it’s time to do shelter in place. I wish we had that. We don’t and we’re not in the business of hoping, we’re in the business of planning. We’re in the business of seeing what’s afterwards.
Governor Walz: (33:11)
And so I can tell you that you hear me talking about this. I think you see this, it appears like there’s a series of events that keep ratcheting up. That’s probably the cadence you’ll continue to see. And again, I don’t think we spread false hope, but if there’s things out there that we’re able to ramp up production of protective equipment, we’re able to ramp up and hold people in place, our hope is we’ll start to see a curve. It may warrant that that is not a necessary decision, but at this time I can’t tell you.
Speaker 2: (33:41)
Mr. Governor, the first question, I have a couple of questions about testing and supplies. First of all, did you say that there was something in the works with Mayo Clinic to help with that backlog?
Governor Walz: (33:52)
I’m sorry, could you ask me one more time? Sorry, I was distracted.
Speaker 2: (33:55)
A couple of questions about testing and supplies. Did you say that there was some work going on with Mayo Clinic to help with that backlog? They had said that they’re producing, I think putting through 4,000 samples a day.
Governor Walz: (34:08)
Yes. I don’t know if there are numbers up there and maybe I’ll have the commissioner may be a little better on that. Yes, Mayo Clinic has been able to step up some of that. Mayo Clinic has also done three supply chain lines to make sure they’re not disrupted. They were part of that yesterday that got that number down. If you noticed and saw that it was our highest number of test days and that reduced it from I think a little over 1,800 down to the 1,291 so maybe commissioner you’d like to mention?
Speaker 3: (34:35)
Yes, thanks. We have been working hard to keep up with the highest priority areas for testing. As Chris mentioned, we know how critical it is that folks who are admitted to the hospital with potential, with any respiratory illness, which might be COVID, it’s very critical that we get those tests done quickly. Healthcare workers, families of healthcare workers.
Speaker 3: (34:57)
We’ve had a pretty tight criteria around what we can test. Our goal as we’re able to keep up with those high priority groups is to expand that list to more essential workers. You’ve heard us all say it would be wonderful if we had a broader testing capacity so we’d have a better handle as the governor keeps saying on, we know, as Chris has said, the lab confirmed tests that we’re able to say are just a portion of the cases that we believe are out there, but undetected.
Speaker 3: (35:25)
So it’s all of our goals to expand testing so that we can lengthen that list. And that’s where Mayo’s capacity is so helpful. Governor mentioned that the M Health University Fairview system is ramping up as well, talked with Hennepin Healthcare. So anything we can do to really maximize the capacity across the state will help us not only to test the current priority patients, but to get a better handle on the denominator of what’s really out there. And we’ve just, as an the governor said, so appreciative of the degree of coordination that’s going on now across those systems.
Speaker 3: (36:03)
… of the degree of coordination that’s going on now across those systems.
Speaker 4: (36:04)
Is there a timeline at this point for maybe when we could get back on track and expand testing a little bit for some of those with symptoms?
Speaker 3: (36:14)
Yeah, I think Chris was just mentioning where we’re really ramping up the coordination effort on a day-to-day basis about how to triage the testing. The overarching challenge still is the global supply chain for some of the ingredients that go into the testing process. That’s where the governor and other governors have really been pushing hard on the federal government to help us be more clear about what’s in the supply chain or how the supply chain could be increased through things like the Defense Production Act.
Speaker 3: (36:46)
We’re still trying to get more clarity from what we might expect from the federal government, but as the governor said, we’re also looking to make sure that if there’s anything we can do at the regional or state level to increase, diversify the supply chain, we’ll be doing that. I’m not trying to duck your question, but there is a complicated set of moving parts and pieces. Bottom line, we’re getting better organized to see where the opportunities are.
Governor Walz: (37:11)
I’ll follow up a little bit on that one, too, because we were on with the president yesterday. The testing issue is still a big deal in other states. Now, the federal government took the position that they would centralize testing, they would use high-speed private vendors, they would set up pods in the most-affected counties that are the highest, and that should, under their theory, start to relieve some of that pressure. Many of us on the call yesterday mentioned that when they did that, it pulled from the existing supply stream and put it into theirs. Now, the federal government said that’s not happening.
Governor Walz: (37:46)
All I can tell Minnesotans is that the reagents and the things necessary to do the test are not available anymore, and so we are out searching. Mayo is doing this. One of the things I’ve asked our team to explore is let’s just make it here. If we need to, let’s just start manufacturing here. I say that not knowing how long it takes to stand up a factory to make reagents. Those are things I’m asking my team to get to us so that we can become self-contained.
Governor Walz: (38:14)
We are fortunate that we have probably the most robust healthcare system and medical device and medical manufacturing of anyplace in the country, so it is our people who are getting them out. You hear the president talk about 3M and the masks. You hear them talk about some of the things coming out of Medtronic and the ventilators. So we’ll continue to work it.
Governor Walz: (38:39)
I want to make one correction here because it is not quite finalized. I want to thank Commissioner Bauerly at Revenue for clarifying this. The federal government made the announcement today to move federal tax filing to July 15th, and they were waiving taxes and penalties. That has not been all the way vetted with the state. It will be our intention to line them up, but we need to go through the process. The legislature will talk doing some of the things if the commissioner is able to line that up. So I want to tell Minnesotans it’s my intention to make sure we get that lined up. At this time, it is not 100% done. Is that the correct interpretation, Commissioner Bauerly?
Governor Walz: (39:15)
All right, thank you for that.
Cynthia Bauerly: (39:17)
Governor, we need the notice from the IRS. The IRS has not published anything.
Governor Walz: (39:20)
Very good. We need a notice from the IRS officially. I was speaking from the guidance out of the president’s press conference. Probably a good idea we get it verified, so thank you for that.
Speaker 4: (39:31)
The last part of that was just about the supply chain with medical protective equipment. The feds said today that FEMA has helped clear up some confusion by states on where to get things can. Can you tell us, how confident are we that we’ll start seeing some of those federal supplies or some of those supplies coming in, even any kind of timeline?
Governor Walz: (39:52)
Yeah, I may defer to Joe on this. I just tell you, with my experience of working with FEMA and the regional directors on flooding, these are career professionals who’ve done this type of stuff before. They’ve got us different types of equipment. I think that should help clear that up.
Governor Walz: (40:09)
But to be candid with you on the question, I don’t believe we can… And we haven’t. We’ve simply gone on our own, and you heard this. Governor Baker from Massachusetts, and we’re doing this too, we’re going out and trying to purchase these things where we can. In his state, they had two purchases ready to go. They got outbid. The outbidder was the federal government, and then took that into the national system away from the state. We hope, and Joe, maybe you can speak to this, we hope this eliminates some of those types of things and puts a much more streamlined supply chain in place.
Joe Kelly: (40:48)
Thanks, Governor. I’ll look to some help from the Department of Health as well. There’s really two lines that we are looking at to get supplies, specifically of PPE and other medical things. One is out of the federal government Strategic National Stockpile, and that is through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Imagine a big warehouse full of everything from protective masks to some pharmaceuticals. I believe they have ventilators and other things.
Joe Kelly: (41:18)
We are trying to draw our fair share, if you will, from that stockpile. That effort is controlled by the Department of Health. We are also endeavoring to make emergency purchases of some of those equipments that might be available to us. But to the governor’s point, we are going to leave no stone unturned trying to find the shortest supply line for the things that Minnesotans and our healthcare system need.
Two quick questions, one for Governor Walz and one for Commissioner Grove. Governor Walz, are you considering ordering shopping malls to close? Some have done it voluntarily. We’re hearing from viewers a lot of people are walking the malls, especially older people, who might be the most vulnerable. Wondering your take on that.
And then for Commissioner Grove, are we approaching the point at which the state cannot keep up with the demand on unemployment insurance, and to the point where you’re going to need federal help both in honoring those unemployment insurance applications and also keeping up with them?
If you could both answer those, starting with you, Governor?
Governor Walz: (42:19)
Yeah, I’ll start with that. Yes, we’re considering it, Tom, I think like so many things at this point in time, because of the size of these, because of the ability to keep some of the social distancing. Some of these, of course, possess pharmacies and other things that people are needing, but we are considering that.
Governor Walz: (42:35)
I think for Minnesotans who see that we… There is, again, no template for this. So when we talked about salons and then followed up with spas or tattoo parlors, we have a very diversified and vibrant economy, and certain businesses… I got asked this morning, for example, these exceptions to the rules, again, counterintuitively, and how do you carve out exceptions? Someone asked about golf courses. They said, “What if people just pay online and there’s no clubhouse, and they go out one at a time for a walk to go through there?” Those are legitimate things. If this is going to go on very longer, we’ve got to figure out where people can at least go, where they can walk, where they can get some exercise in a way that’s safe, so I ask you to bear with us.
Governor Walz: (43:22)
But response to that is yes. I get, too, that there can be a belief that you’re picking winners and losers. We’re trying to use the best data on the transmission and the best ability to do social distancing, but I will not claim that that is perfect. Some of these things where you’re seeing businesses closing on their own, what we do know is that creates some really difficult dynamics for them in competition and in their employees having to go to work. We’re trying to work through that.
Governor Walz: (43:54)
The UI question, Commissioner?
Director Grove: (43:55)
Governor, thanks. Tom, to your question on UI-
Speaker 5: (43:57)
Microphone toward you. Thanks.
Director Grove: (43:59)
There we go.
Speaker 5: (43:59)
Not too close.
Director Grove: (44:01)
Okay. The question on unemployment insurance, we are not worried about the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. We have $1.5 billion in that trust fund, and I said before we have about 95,000 applicants thus far this week. We’ve done some modeling to look at how long that trust fund itself will stand solid. If we had, let’s say, 120,000 applicants to UI over this time, and they took the average amount of payout, which is around $400 a week, we’d only go through a third of that in 12 weeks. Now, those numbers certainly could be higher than 120,000. If we had 300,000 workers on the program, for example, which would be about 10% unemployment, we would go through that trust fund in 12 weeks, but the federal government has always been clear in situations today and in the past that when state trust funds run out, they provide 0% interest loans to back up that fund, and so we aren’t worried about the validity of the fund.
Director Grove: (44:49)
I do want to say, though, that the unemployment insurance program is not a catch-all tool to help every worker in the state that is experiencing stress. We know so many workers do not receive unemployment insurance, are not eligible because they’re independent contractors, 1099 employees. We’re hearing a lot from those groups, and I just want to say that we are thinking very hard about other things that we can leverage to help workers who are not eligible for unemployment insurance. It is a federal program, so as a state, we can’t shift the rules of it to suddenly apply it to a different class of workers whose employers have not paid into it for whatever reason. But we-