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The daily coronavirus update: 2 more deaths; MCA standardized tests canceled

The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed 629 cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up from 576 on Monday. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm noted she expects to see bigger upticks later in the week as today’s numbers represent positives reported on Monday, and fewer tests are done over the weekend.

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) with Gov. Tim Walz and administration officials each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from March 31, 2020:

629 confirmed cases, 12 deaths

Two more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday. It has been 12 days since Minnesota saw its first confirmed death due to the virus.

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The Minnesota Department of Health also confirmed 629 cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota Tuesday, up from 576 on Monday. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm noted she expects to see bigger upticks later in the week as today’s numbers represent positives reported on Monday, typically a slower day for testing.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Because Minnesota, along with other states, continues to experience a shortage of testing capacity, confirmed cases represent the tip of the iceberg, Malcolm said.

“We should all be assuming that the virus is circulating in our communities,” she said.

Since the start of the outbreak 112 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 56 are currently in the hospital. 26 are in intensive care.

The age range of cases in Minnesota continues to be four months to 104 years (the four-month-old is doing well). The median age of confirmed cases is 46 years.

The median ages of patients by subset are as follows:

  • Non-hospitalized cases: 46 (range: 4 months to 104 years)
  • Hospitalized cases: 63 (range: 6 to 95 years)
  • Hospitalized in ICU cases: 62 (range: 33 to 95 years)
  • Deaths: 86 (range: 58-95 years)

Because of a shortage of supplies, MDH and private labs are unable to test everyone who might have the disease, leading MDH to issue guidelines in prioritizing those who work in health care, who are hospitalized or who live in group living situations, whose results have the most implications for health care, and in turn, the broader public.

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Malcolm said MDH has heard that some emergency rooms and hospitals have been defining group living narrowly, for example, nursing homes. She advised that they should include cases in domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters and other congregate living settings among the priorities for testing. MDH has also included prisons and jails in this definition.

MCA tests canceled

The Minnesota Department of Education was granted permission from the federal government to cancel statewide standardized tests, Deputy Education Commissioner Heather Mueller announced Tuesday. The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) tests are officially canceled for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Overflow hospitals

The state continues to scout locations for “stand-up” hospitals that could be quickly created to handle overflows of patients due to the crisis. Joe Kelly, the director of Emergency Management for the state said a team of medical and construction advisors have now visited seven sites and has determined that five would meet the criteria. These are existing buildings that could be quickly converted, Kelly said, in 48-to-72 hours.

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The patients in these hospitals if they are needed would not be COVID-19 patients and not need intensive care or ventilators, he said. Instead, they would be non-critical patients so that existing hospitals could be reserved for the more-seriously ill. He said the state is also lining up furnishings and equipment but will not buy them until the decision has been made to move forward.

Director Joe Kelly
Director Joe Kelly
“We are not going to immediately build out all of these identified spaces and put stuff in there,” Kelly said. “We will convert facilities for this use where and when we need to. I hope we never need any of the alternate care sites we’re working on, much less all of them at the same time.”

Kelly said these beds — up to 2,750 across the state — would be in addition to the beds being added by hospitals in existing facilities. He said he expected estimates on how many of these beds are being created. A state appropriation earlier in March allows hospitals to apply for reimbursement from the state for costs. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it could involve converting beds from surgery to ICU because they have ventilation equipment already.

Hotline sting

Gov. Tim Walz said he supports the hotline number set up to let Minnesotans report on violations of social distancing guidelines, despite complaints that it represents a form of Big Brother with neighbors reporting on neighbors. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka wrote on Twitter: “Please take this hotline down @GovTimWalz  It’s not necessary and it’s not how Minnesotans want to treat each other. We can all show a bit of kindness to our neighbors as we manage our times and needs differently in the stay at home efforts.”

“We simply want people to be able to call and let folks know and it’s for their own good,” Walz said. The governor compared it to numbers where people can report fires.

“If we see people who might not be as informed on this, it’s an educational piece,” he said. “We’re not gonna take down a telephone number that allows people to try to keep their neighbors safe.” The numbers and email address are: 651-793-3746 or email

Unemployment keeps rising

Minnesotans have filed 255,371 unemployment insurance applications since mid-March.

Commissioner Steve Grove
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Commissioner Steve Grove
Last week, DEED reported more women than men were affected by the loss of work due to COVID-19, with about 66 percent of unemployment applications coming from women, while 33 percent came from men. The most recent week, the numbers had evened out, with 54 percent of applications coming from women and 46 percent from men, said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove.

Grove said now it appears more workers in male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction are filing. The share of applications from workers over 30 has also increased, making this week’s pool of applicants slightly older than last week’s.

On Monday, 16,116 Minnesotans filed for unemployment, down 25 percent from last Monday.

“So that’s a good trend and we’ll continue to track that closely,” Grove said.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

Hotline, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920