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The daily coronavirus update: 32 new cases; testing backlog cleared

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 22, 2020:

32 new cases announced; 169 total

There are 32 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, the state Department of Health (MDH) said on Sunday. That brings the state’s total to 169 cases across 28 counties. Because the state lacks testing capacity, however, health officials say the true number of infections is likely far larger. So far, 4,680 people have been tested for the virus by the state’s Public Health Laboratory.

Since the outbreak, 17 patients in Minnesota have been hospitalized due to COVID-19. Of those, 10 patients are currently in the hospital, five of whom are in intensive care. 

Testing backlog cleared

Kris Ehresmann, the Infectious Disease Director at MDH, told reporters that testing by Mayo Clinic has helped the state clear a backlog of 800 samples. “We believe that we can now keep pace with the volume of priority population testing,” Ehresmann said.

Despite the help from Mayo and potentially other labs, Ehresmann said the state will “continue to focus on the highest priority patients” for now until officials are sure there’s a reliable supply chain to support more expansive testing. 

Ehresmann did say the state is looking at other ways to test for COVID-19 that rely on different supplies and methods that existing practices “so that we’re not all seeking the same materials.”

State still considering ‘shelter in place’

Gov. Tim Walz is still considering an order to make residents “shelter in place,” following the lead of California, Ehresmann said. But she said Minnesota still has questions to answer, such as: “If we take action on something like that then at what point do we stop with it?”

Ehresmann said she expects the state will continue to see an increase in cases, which makes deciding when to stop more difficult. For now, Ehresmann also said people who are healthy can see friends who are also healthy as long as they maintain social distancing.

“Our recommendations are for people to social distance, to telework, any gatherings of more than 50 are not to happen,” she said. “And if people are in a high risk category … either based on age or because of underlying health conditions, the recommendation would be to not have groups of anything more than 10.”

Don’t visit the emergency room for dental care

Ehresmann said many people are going to emergency rooms because of dental issues since the governor’s executive order to cancel elective surgeries and other medical procedures. Ehresmann instead asked people to call their dentist for dental emergencies to keep emergency rooms and urgent care centers from being “overloaded.” 

Dentists should stay open for emergency care and “to provide emergency dental care that is needed based on their clinical judgment,” Ehresmann said.

Blood donations needed

Ehresmann also told reporters there is a “desperate need” for blood and encouraged people to donate at blood banks if they are healthy. She said those banks have taken steps to make sure it’s possible to give blood while maintaining social distancing. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many blood drives have been canceled.

Hennepin County seeks protective equipment donations

Hennepin County officials are asking for donations of protective masks, gloves and more to help first responders running low on supplies. In a news release Saturday night, the county asked for:

  • Protective face wear — particularly N95 or N100 masks, powered-air purifying respirators (PAPRs) and surgical masks
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Tyvek coveralls
  • Tyvek foot covers
  • Eye protection (wrap arounds or chemical splash)

The county is taking drop off donations at the Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation at 3000 North Second Street in Minneapolis until 5 p.m. Sunday. 

Beginning Monday, the county will accept donations 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. daily at the Minneapolis location, plus the Adult Correctional Facility, at 1145 Shenandoah Lane North in Plymouth, and at the Southdale Library, at 7001 York Avenue South in Edina.

Small businesses eligible for disaster loans

The Walz administration said Saturday night that small businesses in Minnesota can now apply for a federal loan program to help mitigate economic harms of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Small Business Administration runs an Economic Injury Disaster program that provides “working capital loans” of up to $2 million, says a news release from the state. 

You can apply here:

Minnesota Democrats in Congress ask for faster delivery of supplies

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the seven Democratic members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation asked for faster delivery of personal protective equipment from the country’s national stockpile. 

“HHS has rightly mobilized the (Strategic National Stockpile) in response to the current unprecedented need for medical supplies—including ventilators, masks, shoe covers, gowns, and gloves—for our hospitals,” the letter says. “But while our state has made several requests for items from the SNS, state officials and health care professionals are still waiting for the majority of these critical supplies.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith and Reps. Angie Craig, Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar, Collin Peterson and Dean Phillips.

Reading around the web:

For more information on COVID-19, 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

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Victoria Wilson on 03/22/2020 - 05:44 pm.

    It would be interesting to know the capacity of MN’s hospitalization and care capacity. How many hospital beds? How many ventilators? Which counties are they in? Where are we missing coverage?

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