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The daily coronavirus update: 10th Minnesota death reported; state clarifies who are ‘essential’ workers

COVID-19
Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert
COVID-19

For the foreseeable future, MinnPost will be providing daily updates on coronavirus in Minnesota, published following the press phone call conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) with Gov. Tim Walz and administration officials each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from March 30, 2020:

State reports tenth death; 576 confirmed cases

Another Minnesotan has died from COVID-19, the state Department of Health said Monday. There have now been 10 deaths in the state as well as 576 confirmed cases, up 73 from Sunday, though the number of cases is assumed to be much higher due to a lack of testing capacity.

Of those 576 confirmed cases, 56 are currently in the hospital, including 24 in intensive care — an increase of eight ICU patients. Jan Malcolm, the MDH commissioner, said there are also six more assisted care facilities with one confirmed COVID-19 case, for a total of 31.

To prevent devastating outbreaks — like the one that tore through a nursing home in a suburb outside of Seattle — confirmed cases in those settings triggers an “escalated response,” Malcolm said.

Kris Ehresmann, MDH’s infectious disease director, said the state is trying to learn more about workers at these facilities to prevent staff from being infected or spreading it — especially if they work at more than one facility.

MDH reports that 7,984 people have been tested by way of the department’s Public Health Laboratory while another 10,874 have been tested via other labs. The state also says 260 people who were confirmed to have COVID-19 have recovered and no longer need to be isolated.

The hunt for temporary hospitals

Minnesota continues to scout sites for temporary hospitals that could ease the burden on existing facilities. Joe Kelly, the director of the state Emergency Management office, said a team of evaluators have looked at five sites and have confirmed three of those as possibilities that could accommodate up to 500 beds. Two additional sites in southwest Minnesota were being looked at on Monday.

These temporary hospitals would be for non-critical patients in order to free up beds in current hospitals for more-seriously ill people. The goal is to add 2,700 beds, with 1,000 in the Twin Cities metro area and 1,750 in greater Minnesota. That would be in addition to extra beds that hospitals are creating in their current facilities.

Kelly said one of the facilities looked at was the former prison in Appleton in western Minnesota. A consortium of five counties has been putting together a plan to use the prison as an emergency hospital and has now sought to have the state choose the location for one of its temporary facilities.

“There have been no decisions made yet on what will be the final roster of alternate care sites,” Kelly said. 

How the first ‘stay at home’ weekend went

Gov. Tim Walz said Minnesotans were largely compliant this weekend with his stay-at-home order. Over the month of March, the Department of Public Safety says there has been 71 percent less vehicle traffic in Greater Minnesota and 79 percent less in the Twin Cities Metro Area. “Minnesotans are doing this, you’re getting it right,” Walz said. “We’re grateful for that.”

Kelly, the director of the Emergency Management office, said they have advised police to educate suspected violators of the order rather than issue citations or charge them for breaking the rules. Kelly said anyone concerned that others are not properly staying at home should contact local officials, but said issues can be reported to the state by phone at 651-793-3756 or by email at sahviolations@state.mn.us.

A new schedule for unemployment applications

The Department of Employment and Economic Development has a new system for staggering applicants to the unemployment insurance system because of the flood of people asking for benefits. If the last digit of your social security number is 0, 1 or 2, apply online on Monday; if it’s 3, 4 or 5 apply online on Tuesday; if it’s 6, 7, 8 or 9 apply online on Wednesday. The agency says anyone who missed their window can apply on Thursday or Friday.

Since March 16, DEED has now received 239,263 applications for unemployment benefits. Commissioner Steve Grove noted the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package will give people $600 more a week through July, new benefits for people who are self-employed or independent contractors — who hadn’t typically qualified for unemployment — and an extra 13 weeks of benefits. Grove said the state is still waiting on some federal guidance on how to calculate wages for self-employed people and contractors.

Still unsure if you’re an essential worker? State officials have released new clarifications to their guidance. For instance, the officials say businesses that look after pets such as boarding houses or day care are essential, provided they’re looking after animals for owners who are critical workers, physically or otherwise unable to care for the pet, quarantined or unable to pick up pets that are already boarded. More information is still available on the state’s website.

If you’re looking for work, Grove said the seven employers doing the most hiring in Minnesota right now are:

  • Allina Health
  • Fairview Health Services
  • Securitas Security Services
  • Wells Fargo
  • Randstad Staffing
  • Walgreens
  • Thomas Allen, a personal care service provider

Walz rates federal response a ‘six or a seven’

Walz said President Donald Trump continued to back away from his plan to reopen public life by Easter in a conference call with governors on Monday. At a briefing Sunday, Trump said the feds would extend social distancing guidance until April 30. “He acknowledged the seriousness of this,” Walz said.

The governor said Trump and others on the call, including Vice President Mike Pence and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pledged “a refocused effort” to deliver critical infrastructure to states like personal protective equipment PPE for health care workers and ventilators. 

Asked by reporters Monday to rate on a 1-10 scale how helpful and cooperative Trump’s administration has been in acquiring and distributing PPE, Walz said a “six or a seven.”

“I think they’ve been trying,” he said. “It has not been successful.”

Walz told reporters Minnesota doesn’t currently have a shortage of PPE, but if cases were to spike they would not have enough at existing levels. So the state has been working to get more equipment.

Still, Walz said the federal government has been “getting better every day” and once meager shipments of gear have improved, especially since the Federal Emergency Management Agency took control of the national stockpile earlier in March. He also acknowledged the stockpile wasn’t in shape to handle a crisis happening simultaneously across the country.“Today was the most comforting call I had,” Walz said. “I think it was comforting to hear the president say he was listening to Dr. Fauci. He didn’t realize it could be 2.2 million (deaths without public health intervention). He does now.”

Today on MinnPost:

Around the web:

For more information, visit MDH’s coronavirus website

Or call its COVID-19 health questions hotline, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jeffrey Broberg on 03/31/2020 - 09:14 am.

    your article does not follow your headline?!?! No info here on the list of who is essential. Bad.

    • Submitted by Walker Orenstein on 03/31/2020 - 12:41 pm.

      Jeffrey – there is a whole section on it, along with a link to the updated guidance. Here is the link again: https://mn.gov/deed/assets/critical-worker-definitions-ACC_tcm1045-425195.pdf

      • Submitted by Barry Peterson on 03/31/2020 - 01:56 pm.

        Walker, Thanks for providing this extensive and exhaustive list, through the link you shared. It provides a clear overview, with no fluff, on who are essential workers.

        The read time is about five minutes for those who study with great intent, and less time for those who peruse such data.

      • Submitted by Adam Bauman on 03/31/2020 - 07:00 pm.

        I just read this article (and double checked) and there is nothing about essential workers and no link.
        Thanks for providing the link after Jeffrey’s comment though

      • Submitted by Doug Rohde on 03/31/2020 - 09:38 pm.

        Thanks for adding this comment – I too had a bit of trouble seeing the links in the article as such. I’m using Chrome, Windows 10, Dell laptop. The difference in color between regular text and links is VERY slight and the links aren’t underlined or anything. If you hover over a link, though, then it’s more obvious.

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