Minnesotans are going into what could be a very hard winter, with COVID-19 numbers soaring upward. The state’s death toll has passed 3,600. Hospitals are overwhelmed, admitting more than 200 new COVID patients every day. For people with disabilities who are struggling to maintain care and protect their health, it will be a very isolating and stressful time.
“We are at a breaking point,” said Gov. Tim Walz. His latest round of restrictions closes Minnesota bars, restaurants, fitness clubs and entertainment venues until mid- December. Social gatherings outside of immediate families are on hold, with state officials urging that only immediate families gather.
Vulnerable Minnesotans should continue to stay at home and social distance to protect themselves from the virus. Walz said his actions will prevent more families from losing loved ones, and help reduce the pressure on hospitals statewide.
What continues to affect many people with disabilities is the closing of pools, which provide needed therapy as well as recreation. Many pools have been closed since spring but others have just closed for a time.
Amateur sports also went on pause for four weeks. Adapted soccer is one of many Minnesota prep sports that had its season cut short. The adapted hockey season’s start is delayed.
As Access Press went to press, disability service providers were taking different approaches to the pandemic’s spread. Some already made many changes due to the pandemic, shutting down some services and programs and offering other services remotely. Others have dialed back to remote services only or further limited what is done in-person. Check with providers before making plans and stay in touch to be informed about changes.
Retail stores and barber/beauty salons can stay open. But museums, bowling alleys and movie theaters are again closed. Restaurants can offer carryout.
Walz and other state officials are hoping that by reducing exposure, Minnesotans can be better prepared when vaccines start to become available “I know that hospitalizations are going to continue to go up for the next few weeks and I know that the death numbers will continue to go up for the next few weeks,” Walz said. “But the bright spot of this is, the moves we take now will start to bend that at just the time when the potential for a vaccine is coming.”
Another difficult issue is that of limiting social gatherings. At one point in November, state officials tried to limit the size of social gatherings and ordered bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m. That was a focus on places larger virus outbreaks were traced to. But the accelerating pace of the pandemic spreads forced another change.
Religious services can still go on with restrictions, but in some denominations, leadership has again ordered a halt to in-person worship. Schools are online, in-person or with hybrid learning on a county-by-county basis, based on outbreaks in each county.
In November Walz issued an executive order focuses on students with disabilities, which cites the challenges distance learning has had for many families. He urges schools to make sure that students have access to mental health and telehealth services on their school-issued devices, and that they use current planning guidance on mental health and well-being. Schools are also discouraged from reporting students for educational neglect or truancy.
State officials are scrambling to keep on top of changing trends. “Two weeks ago, I thought a 5,000-case day was horrific. Now, that looks like a good day,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Since November 8, every day has seen more than 5,000 new cases, and two days have been over 8,000.
The time leading up to December 18 could be critical and will likely affect plans for the holidays. COVID-19 incubates for up to 14 days. The goal with the December restrictions is to try to level off infection rates. Trying to slow the spread and ease pressure on hospitals is a huge concern. Many hospitals are at capacity and have hundreds of workers out sick.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and Department of Health post regular updates on program changes. DHS also provides a link to detailed information on its disability services page. Go to the Department of Health’s COVID-19 Situation Update page for information, as well as the DHS site, Coping with COVID-19 for additional resources. State officials also hold press conferences daily, which are broadcast on public television.