ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – The governors of Minnesota and Idaho issued “stay at home” executive orders Wednesday afternoon as the states’ latest step to fight the spread of coronavirus.
The orders requested that residents of the two states shelter in place when possible, with a variety of exceptions. Both states allow certain “essential” businesses to stay open, including grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and health care facilities. The two orders will bring the total number of states under stay-at-home orders to 21, covering over half of the U.S. population.
Minnesota’s order goes underway at midnight on Friday, and Idaho’s took effect immediately after its issuance late Wednesday afternoon. Neither governor committed to a specific end point, with Idaho Governor Brad Little saying it would last “at least 21 days,” and Walz placing April 10 as the earliest possible time his order could be lifted.
Thirty-four Minnesotans have been hospitalized for cases of Covid-19, the novel strain of coronavirus sweeping the world. The state had 287 confirmed cases Wednesday, a figure that Walz warned is well below the actual number of cases.
The first Covid-19 fatality in Minnesota was announced Saturday. Walz said Wednesday that the shelter-in-place order was enacted to avoid a projected 74,000 total deaths in the state from the virus, largely among its elderly and otherwise vulnerable residents.
Minnesota and Idaho have both been in a state of emergency since March 13. Schools closed statewide in Minnesota March 15, and will close Monday in Idaho. Walz ordered the closure of restaurants, bars and other public gathering spaces March 16, although restaurants have been allowed to continue take-out service.
Wednesday’s executive order in Idaho did the same, and the governors left that exemption in place in both states, along with one for liquor stores – a controversial provision among Walz’ Twitter replies.
“We can not have any intoxicated human being doing wreckless (sic) things to anyone or anything,” said one user. Another took a different view, citing quarantine stressors: “As the parent of an 8 year old and a new puppy, thank you for recognizing that liquor stores must remain open!”
Along with grocery stores, laundromats, car mechanics, some social services and logistics and utilities, Minnesota’s $1.8 billion iron ore industry is allowed to stay open under the order.
Non-essential travel within or outside the states, however, is discouraged, as are gatherings outside of one’s household. The virus travels through airborne transmission, and can spread easily between people who are too close to one another.
Idaho has 141 reported cases of the disease, with community spread confirmed in the southwestern and central parts of the state, including the state capital of Boise. No deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded in Idaho as of Wednesday.
Residents of both states are still allowed to leave the house, but the governors directed them to stay distant from people outside their own households – five feet in Idaho, six in Minnesota.
Neither governor gave details on how their orders will be enforced, although Walz specified that violation of the order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail. The governor has said that penalizing violators isn’t meant to be a focus.
“We don’t want them to be arrested, first and foremost, we want to educate people,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “This requires voluntarily (sic) social compliance for a large part.”
Enforcement of anti-coronavirus measures in the United States has been generally more relaxed than in countries like Italy, which has deployed its military to enforce its lockdown.
Measures against the coronavirus have been controversial in both states. Walz, a member of Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party, has faced criticism from state Republicans, including former U.S. Representative and current Senate candidate Jason Lewis.
“We need to be responsible, use best practices, and protect the vulnerable,” Lewis wrote on Twitter. “But we cannot destroy Minnesota & the country in the process. People need jobs to return to!”
Little, a Republican, said that while “we absolutely have to have this take place,” he himself was concerned about the order’s potential impact on his state’s small businesses.
“We’re just trying to minimize it all we can,” he said.
Walz himself entered a two-week quarantine Tuesday after a member of his security team tested positive for the virus. He has not shown symptoms, but said he wanted to model the right protocol to stop the virus’ spread. He has been working via teleconferences since then.