Minnesota governor to announce new virus restrictions Tuesday as cases soar

Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he would announce new shutdown restrictions in Minnesota this week amid an explosion of coronavirus cases in the state. 

Walz will give a live address at 2 p.m. Tuesday, where he plans to go public with the new limits. The governor also said Monday that state officials will soon roll out a cell phone tracker designed to alert people when they've been near someone who tested positive.

The governor also extended his peacetime emergency powers, triggering a special session on Thursday -- the sixth of the year. The House and Senate will have the opportunity to end Walz's powers, but doing so requires votes in both chambers. With split party control, it's unlikely to happen.

Walz is plotting restrictions on bars, restaurants and other gathering places to target the spread of the coronavirus among younger adults, who make up the largest group of COVID-19 cases and often have mild to no symptoms.

“Where are 18- to 35-year-olds congregating together?” Walz told reporters at the Minneapolis Convention Center, home of the state's newest saliva testing site. “It makes sense to us to target those much more surgically and much more aggressively than a statewide stay-at-home order.” 

The governor suggested no new restrictions are imminent on retailers and schools. He said the new restrictions would not amount to another stay-at-home order, like one the state had from March until May.

State health officials reported 3,930 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 19 more deaths. In recent days, Minnesota has reported a record number of deaths and hospitalizations from the virus. On Sunday, Minneosta saw its highest ever single-day increase in COVID-19 cases with nearly 6,000 new cases reported. 

Outbreaks in bars and restaurants spiked in October, according to data provided by the state Department of Health showing 57 such outbreaks in October after just 18 the previous month.

The bar and restaurant industry is worrying and waiting for the announcement. Hospitality Minnesota, the state's biggest hospitality trade group, said Walz should "not unfairly single out" bars and restaurants for a virus that is widespread.

"Closing down these businesses would only serve to push more people to home gatherings where the data shows increased case spread," said Liz Rammer, Hospitality Minnesota's chief executive.

Walz acknowledged that his decision would face pushback, and hinted that he could limit the restrictions. For example, state data indicate most virus cases at bars and restaurants happen after 10 p.m., he said.

"We are not scapegoating the hospitality industry," Walz said.

The governor also said it's possible that new restrictions may not have an impact on retailers. 

“At this point in time we’ve learned that we can do retail, we can do education - some of it in person - if we’re able to test, contain and contact trace those folks to get it isolated,” Gov. Walz said. 

The president of the Minnesota Retail Association, Bruce Nustad says, especially before the busy holiday season, he hopes there are no major changes. 

“Hopefully a lot of industries will be able to keep the great practices they have going and we can still address the spread while you know maintaining a good economic environment,” Nustad said. 

Cell phone tracker

Jan Malcolm, the state's health commissioner, said Minnesota was weeks away from rolling out a cell phone tracker that would alert people when they've been near someone who's tested positive for the virus.

"We're doing more than talking," she said. "We're actually testing."

A person who tests positive would get an alert, allowing them to notify everyone -- anonymously -- who has been within six feet of them. The person can opt out of sending the message, and recipients would not be able to see who tested positive.

Walz said it's been "pretty successful" in other countries that have used the technology, and said it would be "totally anonymous" to avoid privacy concerns.