Walz appears likely to extend stay-home order, but with changes

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he is likely to extend the state's stay-home order through April amid the coronavirus pandemic, but hinted at changes that would allow some businesses to reopen.

Since mid-March, Walz has ordered thousands of businesses to close in an attempt to slow the virus spread. More than 342,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment, 11 percent of the state's workforce.

Monday, Walz said the stay-home order was working, noting that Minnesota's infection rate of 17 per 100,000 residents is the lowest in the country. The first-term governor pushed back against what he termed "conspiracy theories" -- people who question his motivation for issuing the order.

"I think getting on the front end of it, we avoided something what could have been -- and what appears to be in certain parts of the world -- catastrophic," Walz told reporters during his daily teleconference.

Walz rolled out the executive order on March 25 in a televised speech to the state. To justify it, he went through a slideshow of projections from the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota researchers that showed dire consequences if a stay-home order wasn't called.

Upwards of 74,000 Minnesotans could die if the state did nothing and people went about their lives, Walz said during the presentation.

But the modeling has never been released publicly, despite requests from reporters to see it. Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm referred to it Monday as "Version 1.0" and said it was being re-run this week now that the state has better data tailored to Minnesota.

As of Monday morning, 30 Minnesotans have died from the coronavirus. Another 57 are hospitalized in intensive care.

Republicans are calling on Walz to dial back his stay-home order to allow more industries to return to work. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he specifically wanted to see golf course employees, dock builders and landscaping companies allowed to come back.

Monday, the governor faced a raft of questions from reporters about the economic ramifications of the order and volunteered that people on "the dark side of the internet" thought he fudged the projections to justify the executive order.

"Trust me, no one wants to run a deficit as governor. No one wants 10 or 12 or 15 percent unemployment," Walz said. "There’s no joy in this. This is heartache and pain. These are terrible decisions."

The governor said he would not change any of his decisions about the stay-home order in hindsight.

"I could turn on my TV and see the destruction in Italy, the destruction in China. I didn’t need a model to tell me something needed to be done differently and in every place, it was mitigation," Walz said.