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The daily coronavirus update: Evidence of community transmission in Minnesota

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) each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from March 15, 2020:

Community transmission

There is confirmed community transmission of COVID-19 in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health said Sunday in a phone press briefing.

That means cases are coming from unknown sources in Minnesota, and not just from people who have traveled or been exposed to known confirmed cases.

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
“Up until this point all the cases that we have identified either had international or domestic travel experiences, or had been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19,” Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said. “Today we are reporting on three cases in which the individual did not have a history of travel outside of Minnesota, and did not have any known exposures. This is significant because it indicates we do have transmission in the community.”

There are 35 total cases confirmed in Minnesota.

When asked whether the people who had been identified as community transmission cases had been settings that likely exposed them to COVID-19, Ehresmann said not necessarily.

“For a number of them, they were pretty surprised they were positive, actually. They were out in the community, so in other words, we don’t have anyone who stayed inside the four walls of their residence and never went out and developed illness. These were people out in the community but they did not have any of the types of exposures we would have expected and that we’ve been seeing with the previous cases,” she said.

It’s not currently known how transmissible COVID-19 is when people are asymptomatic, though other viruses are so it is possible.

The new cases

Of the 14 new cases, six were in Hennepin County, four in Ramsey, one in Olmsted, one in Waseca, one in Washington and one in Dakota. The ages of the patients ranged from 20 to 94. One of the 14 is hospitalized.

Two of the positive tests were confirmed by the Mayo Clinic, which started testing in the last couple days, Ehresmann said.

All told, cases have now been confirmed in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Stearns, Waseca, Washington and Wright counties.

Social distancing

Ehresmann stressed that Minnesotans should follow Department of Health social distancing guidelines, especially if they are older or otherwise at higher risk of severe illness or complications from COVID-19.

“People who are 70 and older or people of any age who have underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of serious illness form COVID-19 should stay home and avoid gatherings or other situations of potential exposures including travel,” Ehresmann said.

What about those who have to be in contact with the public? People who work in grocery stores or other jobs where they are frequently in contact with the public are not often within six feet of people for more than 10 minutes, which constitutes close contact more likely to transmit the virus. Ehresmann said they should wash their hands frequently, and everyone — the public and workers — should stay home if they’re sick.

Schools closed

Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order and held a press conference Sunday to announce Minnesota’s K-12 schools will be closed to students between Wednesday March 18 and March 27. Some districts will close to students ahead of schedule on Monday, but none can have students by Wednesday. Districts are supposed to use the time to plan for more remote instruction in the weeks ahead.

Peter Callaghan has the story here with more details.

Testing

Because testing capacity isn’t unlimited, MDH is asking health care providers to rule out other respiratory diseases, like flu, before testing for COVID-19.

“We are in the middle of a very robust influenza season, so there has been a great deal of influenza circulating, first influenza B, now influenza A more dominantly, so we recognize that is a big source of respiratory illness at this time,” Ehresmann said. “Given the current limited ability to test for COVID-19, we don’t have the unlimited capacity we would like to have, we are asking providers to rule out other respiratory illnesses before they would consider COVID-19.”

MDH’s coronavirus website: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

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

Reading around the web

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”

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