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The daily coronavirus update: 12 new Minnesota cases; 24 patients have recovered

Because of a lack of testing capacity due to supply chain issues not meeting demand, the true number of cases is likely much larger.

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

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) each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from March 19, 2020:

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12 new confirmed cases, 89 total

MDH announced 12 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota Thursday, for a total of 89 in the state. New cases by county:

  • Hennepin: 4
  • Rice: 1
  • Carver: 1
  • Clay: 1
  • Anoka: 3
  • Martin: 1
  • Mower: 1

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Because of a lack of testing capacity due to supply chain issues not meeting demand, the true number of cases is likely much larger than 89.

Community spread — meaning cases not tied to travel or a known COVID-19 case — has been confirmed in Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Martin counties. MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann cautioned against assuming it’s not spreading in other communities across the state.

Ehresmann said MDH believes community transmission is widespread throughout the state.

On that note, MDH data show an uptick in people presenting with flu-like illness at select providers reporting data to MDH from across the state.

If those numbers continue to rise while an increasing number of people test negative for flu across the state, it could be an indication of how widespread COVID-19 cases are.

Since the outbreak began in Minnesota, seven have been hospitalized. Four remain hospitalized, and the person in their 30s in critical condition from Anoka County remains in critical condition.

New CDC research suggests a significant number of those hospitalized with COVID-19 overall are young people. Asked whether that mirrored Minnesota’s experience, Ehresmann said only a small share of Minnesotans confirmed to have cases of COVID-19 have been hospitalized so far, and that the ages of those who have been hospitalize range. Overall, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota range in people ages 17 to 94.

Recovered patients

24 Minnesotans who tested positive for COVID-19 have been confirmed released from isolation, which means they are considered to have recovered. Again, that number could be much higher given the test shortage.

At MDH, when a patient recovers, the department puts an orange line through their information on its wall chart as well as updating the patient’s status in an electronic database.

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Recovered COVID-19 patients are asked to follow the same isolation guidelines as anyone with a fever or respiratory symptoms, Ehresmann said: staying home seven days from the onset of illness or for three days once a person has no fever without the aid of fever-reducing medication and respiratory symptoms have ended, whichever is longer. 

Working through a test backlog

On Wednesday, Walz said 1,700 samples remain untested in a backlog at the state because of a lack of testing capacity.

Ehresmann said that’s because the state tightened its criteria this week to prioritize samples from those who are hospitalized, those who work in health care and those who live in close proximity to others, such as long-term care and homeless shelters. Because most cases are mild and there is no cure, whether or not people with respiratory symptoms or fevers stay home is the most important thing — not whether they test positive, she has said. For the prioritized groups, testing positive has more implications for public health.

“We are not choosing to limit testing. This is a global and national issue,” Ehresmann said.

Ehresmann says the state lab is working its way through the backlog and hopes to be catching up in the next couple days. Specimens need to be tested within about 72 hours, and are frozen to preserve their integrity if they cannot be.

Asked whether people should trust blood tests marketed to consumers that claim to detect antibodies to COVID-19, Ehresmann said such a test would not indicate whether a person is presently infected with the virus, only if they had been in the past, and consumers should not trust tests that are not FDA-approved.

No elective surgeries

Just in: Gov. Tim Walz has issued an executive order to “postpone elective surgeries and procedures, including non-emergent elective dental procedures,” to focus on COVID-19 and other emergencies.

In MinnPost today:

For more information, you can visit MDH’s coronavirus website.

The state’s COVID-19 hotline for health questions is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920

Correction: MDH on Thursday said one of the new cases was in Wadena County. Upon further investigation, it announced the case in question was in a Clay County resident.