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The daily coronavirus update: 25 new cases, Walz’s stay-at-home order, building ICU capacity

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm also said the supply chain continues to be a problem when it comes to COVID-19 testing, especially when it comes to collecting samples.

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 25, 2020:

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Walz issues stay-at-home order

The biggest news today, of course, is that Gov. Tim Walz announced stricter measures designed to get Minnesotans to reduce contact with one another.

Under the current “social distancing” regime, Minnesotans have reduced contacts by 50 percent, but tighter measures are designed to slow the spread of the virus even further by reducing person-to-person contact by 80 percent. The ultimate goal is to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed.

The stricter orders, called “Stay-at-Home,” take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 27, and are set to expire at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 10. 

What does “stay-at-home” mean? Basically, the order tells Minnesotans to stay home unless their job is “essential” and unless they are:

  • Doing health and safety activities
  • Doing outdoor activities
  • Making necessary trips for supplies and services
  • Making essential intra or interstate trips
  • Caring for others
  • Without a home
  • Relocating to ensure safety

I’m keeping this brief because my colleagues Peter Callaghan and Walker Orenstein have already done stories on the measure, with Callaghan offering more details on the executive order itself (and the model underlying it), and Orenstein explaining who and what is (and isn’t) considered essential under the provision.

Before you rush out and panic-buy supplies (please don’t), officials have said the food supply chain is fine. Pharmacies and liquor stores will still be open, and they will be busy, so maybe thank those workers. 

Walz also extended orders closing schools (until at least May 4) and bars, restaurants and other public gathering places (until at least May 1). 

287 cases as of Wednesday, up 25 from Tuesday

As of Wednesday, Minnesota has confirmed 287 positive cases of COVID-19 since the virus broke out in the state, up 25 from the number of cases confirmed Tuesday.

Because of testing capacity issues, the number of cases in the state is likely to be much higher.

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Minnesota saw a jump in current hospitalizations, from 15 Tuesday to 26 Wednesday, with 12 in intensive care. Since the outbreak began, 35 Minnesotans have required hospitalization, one has died and 122 people who tested positive no longer need to be isolated.

Today is the first day MDH has begun reporting the number of tests completed by private labs on its website. With the private lab tests added to those done by MDH’s Public Health Lab, the total number of tests reported completed in Minnesota so far is 11,475.

The testing supply chain is still a problem

On Wednesday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said supply chain continues to be a problem when it comes to COVID-19 testing, but now the trouble isn’t so much with lab supplies as it is with collecting samples.

“We can process the samples but getting the samples has become a challenge with things like nasopharyngeal swabs being in critically short supply, and many of the health systems don’t have any swabs to swab patients,” she said. 

This has led to a continued need to prioritize the testing of patients whose results have the biggest impact on clinical care, such as those who are in the hospital, work in health care or are in group living situations.

Despite the issues, Malcolm called Minnesota’s testing volume “quite respectable” compared to most of the state’s peers.

Upping the ICU bed count in Minnesota

Joe Kelly, the director of the state’s emergency management department, said he has been working with his own planning team as well as the statewide health care coordinating group to determine what is needed to build up the supply of hospital rooms, especially intensive care beds.

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Walz Wednesday said his Stay Home order was meant partly to provide time to get the ICU bed inventory increased from the current 235 to 1,000. 

“They bring a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience to identify alternate care sites to supplement our hospitals and most importantly our capacity to care for the most critically ill,” Kelly said of the coordinating group.

“Our goal is to identify sites around the state, obtain the equipment and supplies to operate them and then bring in the health care professionals who can take care of the patients,” Kelly said, summarizing the tasks as sites, stuff and staff.

“We are working on all three elements simultaneously as fast as we can but job one is the sites and then we’ll address the stuff and the staff,” Kelly said.

Further reading

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