(Courtesy MPR)

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered Minnesotans to stay at home for two weeks, at least, as part of the state’s ongoing efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease.

The order isn’t a complete lockdown and it allows essential activities and services to continue, Walz said. People will be allowed to exercise outdoors and visit the grocery store, for example, with proper social distancing. The order takes effect Saturday and lasts through April 10.

Walz said it’s impossible to lessen the number of Minnesotans who will become infected with COVID-19, but the stay home order is intended to push out the time of peak infections so there are intensive care unit beds available for those who need it.

Minnesota had 235 ICU beds available as of Tuesday, Walz said, adding that about 15 percent of COVID-19 cases will require hospitalization and 5 percent will need intensive care. The remaining 80 percent of infections are expected to be mild.

The goals of the order, Walz said, include:

  • Build out hospital capacity
  • Increase access to ventilators and other life-saving equipment
  • Increase testing for COVID-19
  • Address personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages for health workers
  • Plan for how to protect and care for vulnerable populations in coming months
  • Assess new data to inform mitigation strategy

On-site school closures last into early May under the order.

Nearly 80 percent of Minnesota jobs are considered essential under the order, said Steve Grove, the Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner. A list of those jobs is available at a state website.

Walz has already issued orders to keep Minnesotans from congregating in ways that might aid the disease’s spread, including shifting bars and restaurants to takeout-only service.

Other states have instituted so-called shelter-in-place rules, although many of those orders are similar to what Minnesota is already doing. Most allow for residents to go to grocery stores and pharmacies, take walks and walk pets.

The plans for extended curbs on daily life come as the state Health Department on Wednesday confirmed 287 cases of COVID-19 after 6,365 tests. Twenty-six people were in the hospital with the coronavirus. The number of cases is likely at least 10 times as high as the number of testing-confirmed cases, however, and an increasing number of people will likely require hospitalization in the coming days and weeks, according to health officials.

Officials are weighing constructing makeshift hospitals in school gymnasiums if needed.

Minnesota officials say early signs indicate that preventative measures are helping. Cellphone data and other information shows that social distancing is happening, Walz said, adding, “Minnesotans are taking this seriously.”

As of Wednesday, 122 coronavirus patients no longer required isolation, the Health Department said.

Walz, though, cautioned earlier in the week that more waves of coronavirus cases will come.

“There is no doubt that this is going to take some time,” Walz said. “It’s going to be well beyond Easter (April 12), and I don’t think it does us any good to pretend that it’s not.”