Minnesota ordered to shelter in place for two weeks

Minnesotans have largely been off the streets since March 17, if not before, which the governor credited with slowing the virus's spread to date.

Minnesotans have largely been off the streets since March 17, if not before, which the governor credited with slowing the virus's spread to date. Associated Press

But, hey, let's not all freak out about it?

This is pretty much what you were supposed to be doing anyway.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz announced a statewide shelter in place mandate Wednesday afternoon, making Minnesota the 19th state to issue a legally binding instruction to stay home and avoid contact with people unless absolutely necessary. 

The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday night and will last two weeks, through April 10, during which time Minnesotans should only leave their homes when necessary.

"There is no magic to a two-week period," said Walz, who hinted the order could be altered or extended based on new developments. 

Another order extended the ban on dining in at bars, cafes, and restaurants, through May 1. The dining industry has been limited to take-out, drive-thru, and delivery since a statewide restriction went into effect March 17.

A third order issued Wendesday authorizes the Minnesota Department of Education to implement a "distance learning" program that would extend from March 30 through May 4. 

Walz specified grocery shopping and healthcare visits, among other tasks, as allowed under the order, and said people could continue to go outside for exercise or recreation, but asked that they  keep their distance from each other.

"Be smart about this," Walz said. "This does not mean you don't step out of your house... it does mean we're getting more restrictive."

Those found to be violating the order could be charged with a misdemeanor, and face a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, according to the order, which orders Minnesotans to "work from their home or residence as much as possible." 

Workers in healthcare, law enforcement, food and agriculture, energy, public utilities, journalism, banking, childcare, education, construction, and hotels, among other industries, are exempt from the work-from-home mandate.

Excused activities under the order include any safety measure, including by someone who has "suffered from or is at risk of domestic violence." 

Under "supplies and services," the order says:

"Individuals may obtain food, including delivery or carry-out services, beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and other grocery items, gasoline, supplies needed to work from home, and products needed to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of homes and residences, businesses, and personally owned vehicles, including  automobiles and bicycles. Individuals may also visit and use the services of laundromats and dry cleaners."

"Essential" travel in and out of the state is also still allowed, as is any step taken to care for or transport a "family member, friend, or pet."

Walz applauded Minnesotans for sacrifices they've already made in staying home and practicing social distancing, saying: "Minnesota seems to be doing this better than any other state."

As of Wednesday, Minnesota has 287 confirmed cases of coronavirus, aka COVID-19, with one death and a dozen people currently in intensive care, up from seven on Tuesday. Under the state's models, Walz said, up to 74,000 Minnesotans would die from coronavirus if the state did not take steps to mitigate social interaction and the virus's spread.

Walz said the decision was informed by modeling by experts at the Minnesota Department of Health, and spoke at length about lessening the burdens on hospitals' ability to test for and treat new cases, care for the critically ill in intensive care units, and find available ventilators.

"I know these past several weeks have been the most disruptive and stressful many of us have seen," said Walz, who made his announcement alone. The governor has himself been in quarantine since Monday morning after a member of his security detail tested positive for coronavirus.

The shelter in place won't cure Minnesota of a spreading virus, warned Walz, who said without a vaccine -- and none exists now -- "most of us... will experience [the virus] over the course of the next year to 18 months." Keeping people in their homes, and away from each other, "simply moves the date out" of when the virus will hit new groups.

We'll continue to update this story as more information becomes available.