Minnesota Department of Health officials said the coronavirus is taking longer to double in total as the state’s stay-safe order went into effect Monday, allowing small retailers across Minnesota to reopen at limited capacity.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the double time of confirmed COVID-19 cases is up to 12 days and that the nine reported deaths Monday from the virus represents the lowest one-day total in the last month.
Still, health officials are stressing social distancing measures and urging people with any symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home and self-isolate, saying community spread of the virus is still present in the state.
“It’s something we consider to be, not definitive, but a positive sign of the relative stable growth of the epidemic in Minnesota,” Malcolm said during a briefing Monday of the slower doubling time. “That can change very quickly, with very little notice.”
Minnesota’s COVID-19 death toll climbed to 731 on Monday with 488 people hospitalized and 229 in intensive care. Total confirmed cases have now reached 16,372. MDH continued to report nine probable deaths in Minnesota from COVID-19. Those are cases where COVID-19 is listed on a death certificate but a positive test was not documented.
The new numbers came on the same day the stay-at-home order ended for state residents, replaced by a stay-safe order that loosened restrictions on retailers and gatherings. Small businesses can now open at 50 percent capacity with social distancing measures in place, and group gatherings of 10 or fewer people are allowed, including places of worship.
Malcolm said Monday that as Gov. Tim Walz continues to reopen sectors, it will remain important for residents and businesses not to let their guard down, especially those not feeling well. She said the goal of the agency is to manage the risk of exposure as the staged reopenings continue.
Health officials are monitoring a few key metrics as restrictions are loosened to determine if the coronavirus is accelerating, including double time, daily testing rates and the ratio of positive tests and the amount of community spread or unknown origins of the virus, all which could indicate a more widespread presence of the disease.
“Lower risk does not equal no risk,” Malcolm said Monday. “We’re really going to have to keep up these behaviors for a long time to come.”
Walz said last week in introducing the stay-safe order that the onus is now on Minnesotans to continue practicing distancing measures, or the administration could tighten social restrictions again if cases surge. Minnesota was under the stay-at-home order since late March, and Walz is expected this week to announce a partial opening of bars and restaurants for dine-in services effective June 1.
That’s in contrast to neighboring Wisconsin, where last week, the state supreme court struck down stay-at-home orders by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, effectively allowing businesses to reopen at will.
Evers said Monday that he would not try to push new restrictions to slow COVID-19’s spread in the state, citing the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling.
"The Republicans made it very clear they don't believe a statewide approach is the right way to go at this point in time," Evers said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense spending a lot of time doing something we know isn't going to be successful."
MPR News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.