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The daily coronavirus update: Four more deaths; more cases in long-term care facilities

A total of 25 congregate living facilities in Minnesota have had outbreaks of COVID-19, meaning either a staff member or a resident has tested positive. That’s up from 20 Saturday.

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. (Since it’s the weekend, just MDH today).

Here are the latest updates from March 29, 2020:

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503 total cases, 9 deaths

The Minnesota Department of Health reported four additional COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota on Sunday, for a total of nine.

Three of the people whose deaths were reported Sunday were Hennepin County residents of long-term care facilities (two were in the same facility). One was a Martin County resident who was not a resident of a long-term care facility.

In terms of ages, three of the deceased were in their eighties or nineties, and the other was in their fifties with several underlying health conditions, said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

MDH reported 503 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday — an increase of 62 since Saturday. Because of lack of testing capacity, the true number of cases is likely significantly higher.

Of the 503 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, 75 have required hospitalization. 39 Minnesotans are hospitalized as of Sunday, with 16 in intensive care.

252 Minnesotans who tested positive for the virus no longer need to be isolated, which means they’re considered to be recovered.

More cases in congregate living

Malcolm said a total of 25 congregate living facilities in Minnesota have had outbreaks of COVID-19, meaning either a staff member or a resident has tested positive. That’s up from 20 Saturday.

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Congregate living is a term that includes long-term care as well as prisons, jails and homeless shelters, places that especially concern public health officials because people tend to be at higher risk of severe complications from the virus and live close to one another, meaning the virus could spread quickly.

There are 32 cases in such facilities, 11 in health care workers and 21 in residents. As of Sunday: 18 facilities had one case; four had two cases and three had more than two cases. One facility had four cases.

A reporter asked Malcolm on the press briefing call whether families with loved ones in long-term care should consider taking them out of those facilities.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
She said she understands that many families might be asking themselves that question, but MDH is not in a position to dictate what families do.

“We believe that folks in long-term care are working really hard to make those environments as safe as possible,” she said. “I just would have to defer that to private family decisions and consultations with individual care facilities.”

As we outlined last week: when a case is identified in a congregate living setting, an MDH epidemiology team contacts it immediately, helps review potential exposures, identifies potential staff or health care exposures and makes recommendations to limit transmission.

An infection prevention team does a virtual assessment of facilities’ infection control practices and advises them on best practices. A nurse case manager is assigned to the facility and helps address questions about infection prevention and expedite protective equipment requests.

MDH also provides facilities with a template of a letter to notify residents and families of the COVID-19 case and with weekly shipments of masks and face shields.

Is ‘stay-at-home’ helping?

It’s too early to tell, but Malcolm says they’re hoping to get some indication of whether social distancing and Gov. Tim Walz’s “stay-at-home” order have made a difference in a week to 10 days.

“That’s our hope that as we look at kind of the pattern over the last couple of weeks versus the pattern that’s happening in other places, whether we can discern that we’re on the same trajectory or a slightly different one,” she said.

Of course, she added, different states have been using different policies and have other conditions that could help explain differences in virus spread, too.

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This weekend on MinnPost:

Reading 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