MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesotans will learn Thursday to what extent the state will loosen the stay-at-home restrictions that have kept the state’s economy on ice for just over a month, Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday.

 

The governor’s order is due to expire Monday. Walz indicated at a news conference in Worthington that his plan is to dial back the restrictions slowly instead of risking a huge surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I know one of the worst parts of this entire thing is the uncertainty in everything,” Walz acknowledged.

The governor said the intent of his order was to delay the peak of the pandemic to buy time to build up hospital, testing and tracing capacity; promote social distancing; and build up supplies of personal protective equipment.

Walz last week relaxed the rules slightly, allowing up to 20,000 companies employing 80,000 to 100,000 workers to begin resuming operations this week. But he left the closures of bars, restaurants, theaters and other businesses in place. He gave no specifics Wednesday on which restrictions he'll ease next, or by how much.

“We’re going to continue on this pace of moving Minnesota into more opening," he said, but added that it will depend on social distancing and progress toward boosting testing capacity to 20,000 per day. “It's going to take us a little while longer. So I think what you can expect is that we will continue to evolve and move down there. It's not like a light switch.”

Walz traveled to Worthington for a news conference with U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, of Minnesota, and other officials on efforts to reopen the JBS pork plant, which has been shut down since last week because of a surge in cases among workers. They didn't have a timetable for reopening the JBS plant, but said it will depend on worker safety. Peterson, who said about 500 workers there have been infected, told reporters he got a pledge from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that the federal government will do everything in its power to help reopen the plant.

Jennie-O Turkey Store, a division of Hormel Foods, said Wednesday that it was temporarily shutting down its processing plant in Melrose. The company said that as of Monday, 19 of its approximately 750 employees there had tested positive for the cornonavirus. Jennie-O late last week shut down two of its plants in Willmar.

In case Minnesota's hospitals are overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, Director Joe Kelly of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management said Wednesday plans are being developed for hospital overflow facilities where noncritical patients who are not infected with the coronavirus can be cared for. A recently shuttered Roseville nursing home is the first alternate care site and should be ready in a couple of weeks, Kelly said.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported another big jump in coronavirus cases Wednesday as the state ramps up its testing capacity. The agency said 463 more Minnesotans have tested positive — a new one-day high — to raise the state's total to 4,644. That total includes 138 new cases in Nobles County, which includes Worthington. The department also reported 18 new deaths Wednesday to raise the state’s total to 319.

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