COVID-19 Update: Executive Orders and Medical Supplies

COVID-19 Update: Executive Orders and Medical Supplies

As of Friday, Gov. Tim Walz has signed a dozen executive orders to address the pandemic, while Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies ramp up production of much-needed medical supplies.

With the number of COVID-19 cases reaching 115 in Minnesota, 15,219 nationally, and 259,314 globally, executive orders continue to pour in and medical supply production ramps up.

To date, Gov. Tim Walz has signed 12 executive orders, three of which were signed Friday. Price gouging is now prohibited during the state of emergency, under Executive Order 20-10. The order came in response to reports of essential goods being sold at excessive prices. Unlike most states, Minnesota doesn’t typically have a statute against price gouging.

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Walz said he’d heard reports of hand sanitizer being sold for as much as $60 a bottle.

The other two executive orders focus on continuing essential state services, including those provided by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. One order allows state agencies to waive federal requirements to ensure they continue providing services. At the same time, MNsure on March 23 will open a special enrollment period to uninsured Minnesotans starting.

On Wednesday, Walz issued another order to close salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, spas, and similar establishments, following Tuesday’s closure of bars and restaurants.

And countless other businesses are closing their doors, even without an explicit executive order. Galleria shuttered on Thursday, while Carousel Motor Group stores and jeweler JB Hubson closed Friday.

This week, applications for unemployment benefits reached nearly 100,000.

The state’s medical system, meanwhile, is gearing up for an influx of COVID-19 cases. In response to another executive order, all Minnesota hospitals, clinics, and health systems are postponing elective surgeries and nonessential procedures, the Minnesota Hospital Association announced Thursday. Impacted patients will be contacted by their health care provider, said MHA president and CEO Dr. Rahul Koranne in a press release.

“While this is a difficult decision for the hospital and health system community, it is the right thing to do in order to protect our patients and preserve supplies, equipment and staffing for the most urgent and time-sensitive patient needs. We need to make sure we can protect our front-line care teams with supplies and prepare for the inevitable surge of COVID-19 patients,” Koranne said.

The financial implications of the pandemic still haven’t come into full view, but initial impressions look dire. Since the start of global virus, the stock market has plummeted by about 35 percent, with the Dow dropping 925 points on Friday, marking the worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

But Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies are doing what they can to respond to high demand for medical supplies. 3M has doubled its global production of respirators, amounting to nearly 100 million respirators a month. The Maplewood-based company also is looking to expand its global capacity by over 30 percent within the next year.

“3M is working with governments, medical officials, customers and distributors around the world to help get supplies where they are needed most,” the company said in a statement.

The recently enacted U.S PREP Act expansion means the government assumes liability for certain products, which has allowed 3M to increase its manufacturing of standard and surgical respirators.

3M also noted that it has not changed its prices for respirators due to COVID-19, and condemned unethical, exploitative actions profiteering off the pandemic.

“3M is receiving increasing reports of fraudulent and counterfeiting activities involving 3M products,” the company said.

Medtronic, which is based in Ireland but has operational headquarters in Fridley, has increased its ventilator production by over 40 percent, the company announced Wednesday. The respirators are key life-saving devices for COVID-19 infections, as they help patients who struggle to breathe effectively. The medtech company’s increase in output follows ramped-up manufacturing efforts, additional shifts, and increased staffing.

“Medtronic recognizes the demand for ventilators in this environment has far outstripped supply,” the executive vice president and president of the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group at Medtronic, Bob White, said in a press release. “No single company will be able to fill the current demands of global healthcare systems.”

As shelves are being restocked after waves of panic-buying, Land O’Lakes president and CEO Beth Ford has reiterated the company’s confidence in the nation’s food supply.

“One of the pillars of our national security is our safe and affordable food supply,” Ford said in an interview on CNN. “This isn’t about whether we have goods available. This is a distribution challenge right now.”

The company is coordinating with retailers and government agencies to get food moving to where it needs to go, she said.

“Food is available. Farmers are getting into the fields, we are moving goods, milk production is strong, we are coordinating across the sector, so it is not an availability issue right now,” Ford said.

Target also says it’s investing more than $300 million in its frontline employees, the company announced Friday. This comes by way of increased hourly pay, bonuses to team leads, and access to paid leave for its vulnerable workers.

“The commitments we’re making today will provide additional resources for our most valuable asset—our team, their families and the communities impacted by the coronavirus,” Target CEO Brian Cornell said in a news release.

In addition, Target and the Target Foundation have contributed $1 million to the Target Team Member Earning Fund and $9 million to assist organizations responding to the virus.