Some Catholic and Lutheran church leaders in Minnesota are saying it's not fair that businesses are being allowed to reopen but church-goers are not yet able to gather for worship.

State officials say one concern is that many who might attend church are part of a vulnerable population.

“We completely understand the value and the strong desire for reconnection with our faith communities. On so many levels, we’re hearing the frustration of people who feel our guidance is overreacting,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “We just do know that church gatherings or religious or faith gatherings can pose a special risk just because of who tends to be in the congregation.”

Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota Department of Health infectious disease division director, said she’d heard from her congregation concerns about reopening and the pressure older parishioners might feel to join in-person worship services despite the health risks. "It would be too much of a pull,” Ehresmann said. “We would get people who would be particularly at risk who would want to attend.”

Officials with the Catholic Church and others said they have been in regular contact with the governor's office throughout the pandemic, having voluntarily suspended in-person services ahead of the initial stay-at-home order, and wrote to Walz again this week along with their Missouri Synod counterparts to express disappointment with their exclusion from the executive order allowing retail shops to reopen.

The church leaders said their proposal to reopen at one-third capacity had earlier been rebuffed by the governor's office.

State officials have yet to nail down dates for more robust church openings.


Thirty-two deaths from COVID-19, another one-day record, were reported by the Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday, May 21. The state continues to approach early modeling projections that put the peak daily death rate at nearly 50 deaths a day. The illness is expected to peak sometime between late June and early August.

Of the deaths, 28, or 87 %, were residents of long-term care.

The new deaths reported Thursday bring the total lives lost to the illness in the state to 809. Health officials now believe the state will have lost 1,000 persons by the end of May.

The state recorded 539 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday out of 6,118 tests taken for the day, an 8% positive case rate.

North Dakota

The Department of Health on Thursday, May 21, announced 134 new cases of COVID-19. It's the highest number of cases confirmed in a single day of the pandemic and the second consecutive day with a new case count over 100. There are 93 new cases in Cass County, with nine of those tied to residents and employees of nursing homes in Fargo. Twenty-four of the new cases Thursday came from Ward County, which encompasses Minot.

The department also confirmed two deaths. Like every other victim of the illness in North Dakota, the men had underlying health conditions, according to the department. Fifty-one North Dakotans have now died from the illness.

South Dakota

Two more COVID-19 deaths have been reported by the South Dakota Department of Health, bringing the total number of deaths to 48 as of Thursday, May 21. Current hospitalizations increased to 91, up 10 from Wednesday. The state's number of new positive cases increased by 73 and now total 4,250. Active cases of COVID-19 are at 1,057.


There were 472 new COVID-19 cases reported in Wisconsin. There were six deaths reported, bringing the state total to 487.

Around the region

  • An announcement is expected today on the fate of the Minnesota State Fair.
  • Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has issued an emergency regulation requiring the use of face masks while in all stores, hotels, schools, government buildings and public places of commercial activity, a sweeping list of "places of public accommodation" that will grow include bars and restaurants when they open their doors.

  • South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem sent a letter to President Donald Trump disputing the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's authority to do health checks at the borders of the reservation.

  • Fargo area health officials are targeting testing on vulnerable residents, high-risk workers and people who have been identified as close contacts of other COVID-19 patients, rather than mass drive-in testing that had previously been used.

  • North Dakota's Reuniting Families Task Force is chaired by Chris Larson, who lives in Luther Memorial Home in Mayville. After 20 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in his home, Larson on Wednesday said his position on finding a way to safely reintroduce visitation to long-term care facilities has not changed. "In light of recent COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities, the Reuniting Families Task Force will continue to develop safe visitation guidelines that will reunite families and residents when the time is safe," Larson said in a statement. "We know and realize these times are difficult, but rest assured that the committee is dedicated to developing comprehensive guidelines that will safely allow for families to reunite with their loved ones in long-term care settings."

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