Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday extended Minnesota's stay-at-home order for another two weeks, to May 18, while loosening some restrictions on retail businesses to allow curbside pickup.
Walz said the stay-at-home order has helped keep the coronavirus from erupting in Minnesota, but he wants to move cautiously "to keep this virus at a simmer, not a boil."
He said easing restrictions on retailers would allow up to 30,000 Minnesotans to go back to work safely. Businesses must develop and post their plans to reopen safely, outfit workers in masks and protective equipment, use online payment as much as possible and maintain social distancing.
Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb in Minnesota, but the state is making progress toward more testing, according to new data Thursday from the Minnesota Department of Health.
The department reported 24 new deaths, for 343 total. A new one-day high of 492 confirmed cases pushed the state's total to 5,136. And a daily high of 3,532 new tests brought the total to 70,276.
Officials have warned that the case count will swell as testing accelerates. Walz last week announced a partnership with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic to expand the state's testing capacity to 20,000 daily within a few weeks.
The department also reported that 365 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday, up 45 from Wednesday, and 130 of them were in intensive care, up 11 from the day before.
Health officials say the real number of Minnesotans infected with the coronavirus is likely much higher because most people don't get tested, and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.
Some Republicans have pressed Walz to reopen more quickly, noting far lower virus case counts outstate than in Minnesota's big cities. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown, said Walz should do more to help "Main Street" businesses.
"For thousands of other businesses, being closed until May 18 could be a devastating setback that they may not recover from. I hope the governor will move as quickly, and with as much advance notice as possible to help other businesses reopen their doors," Daudt said.
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