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The daily coronavirus update: School and bar closures will be extended; Walz determining shelter-in-place criteria

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 24, 2020:

262 cases as of Tuesday, up 27 from Monday

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 262 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, an increase of 27 over Monday’s count.

A reminder: Testing capacity issues mean there are surely a lot more cases than those numbers let on.

Since the virus first appeared in Minnesota, one Minnesotan has died as a result of COVID-19, 21 have been hospitalized and 15 are currently in the hospital, seven in intensive care. 88 Minnesotans have “recovered,” meaning they no longer need to be isolated after testing positive.

School and bar closures will be extended

The executive orders that closed schools and gathering places such as bars and gyms had expiration dates of this Friday, March 27. Those will be extended, Walz said.

“I think people can forecast that there’s going to be an extension on those,” he said. “I’m hesitant to set an unrealistic date but we will be extending it and that’s a discussion that is ongoing.

“I think setting it at two weeks as (Wisconsin) Gov. Evers has done gives people a target so it won’t be indefinite. But I can’t tell you that it will be open on that date. With the school closings we knew this was going to be a time to plan but there may be a point where it just makes sense to say our children aren’t coming back this year. We’re gonna finish the best we can.

“But because it is so fluid we’re trying not to make an indefinite announcement or set a sense of false expectations here,” he said.

No shelter-in-place but Walz is closer to having criteria for when

Walz said he is not receiving pressure from businesses and others to avoid a closure order. He is hearing from people who want to know how it would work and how they would be impacted.

Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz
But the governor said he thinks his initial closure orders came quicker and were broader than some other states and that they may have done more to slow the spread of the virus. And he differed with President Donald Trump who has said economic disruption could end by Easter.

“You have to be clear. What is your purpose of a shelter in place?” Walz said. He said he wants to know when infections peak and when intensive care units are at capacity. He wants to slow infections so the beds don’t reach capacity before the infection rate is at its highest.

“People need to hear the truth on this. There’s not gonna be a day where the ‘all clear’ signal goes off and everyone comes out and they don’t get it,” Walz said. “I think there’s a misconception that we’re going to shelter in place and then there’s an all clear and there will be big parties on Grand Avenue and Hennepin. That is totally false.

“All the things we’ve done are basically to do one thing, to buy us time.” that time is spent developing therapies and vaccines, producing masks and gowns and testing, and spreading out the need for ICU beds.

“The point is to have no one show up at a hospital who needs an ICU or a ventilator not be able to get one,” he said.

Virus modeling

How is Walz making those decisions?

Walz said he’s watching models being built by the Minnesota Department of Health in conjunction with researchers at the University of Minnesota to understand when Minnesota will reach peak infection and ICU capacity.

Using those models, he said, the administration can use policies like loosening and tightening social distancing restrictions to make sure the health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed. By doing that, he said, the state can buy time, keeping health care from overloading as testing gets better, health care infrastructure is built and eventually, a vaccine is developed.

The models have not been released publicly, but officials said last week the state would do so when it has sufficient confidence in them.

Estimate: Between 40 percent and 80 percent of Minnesotans will be infected

On Monday’s call, Walz said between 40 percent and 80 percent of Minnesotans would likely become infected with COVID-19 over the course of the epidemic.

On Tuesday health officials elaborated on that number a bit:

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said those ranges are appropriate.

“As you’ve heard us say before, one of the things we might anticipate here is that over time, COVID-19 becomes another circulating strain of coronavirus that is just managed along with other infectious diseases,” she said. “But that can only happen if we get therapeutics and the vaccines and the approaches to managing are that will allow the health care system to absorb that volume.”

How does that compare to a normal flu season?

In a normal flu season, between 5 percent and 25 percent of the population tends to get influenza, said Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann. But for flus, we have vaccines and some level of historical immunity.

“When you have a population that is completely naive to a new virus like we have with COVID-19 that’s why you expect to see these higher rates of infection simply because no one has any immunologic history with the virus,” she said.

Expanding health care capacity

Joe Kelly, Minnesota’s Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the state has convened a planning team that’s working on increasing the capacity of the health care system, particularly intensive care beds.

“Imagine a motel where we would convert sleeping rooms into hospital rooms,” Kelly said. “Or envision the basketball court in your high school being partitioned into care units for patients who need higher levels of patient care.”

Kelly said efforts to increase capacity are being undertaken with the help of technical expertise and equipment from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard.

Unemployment claims continue to climb

Between March 16 and March 23, Minnesota saw 149,443 new applications for unemployment benefits. DEED Commissioner Steve Grove ran through some stats on the people whose jobs have been hardest-hit by COVID-19 so far.

Industry breakdown:

  • Food prep and services industry: 48,540 applications
  • Personal care and service industry (salons, spas, tattoo parlors, etc.): 10,844 applications
  • Sales and service: 10,657 applications
  • Office and administrative support: 9,271 applications

Women appear to be particularly hard-hit, due to the high share of women in some of the industries hit most heavily by COVID-19 closures: While women ordinarily make up about 33 percent of unemployment applications, they make up 63 percent of new applicants, Grove said.

The age group with the most unemployment claims is between 22 and 29. In terms of educational attainment, people with between 13 and 15 years of education with less than a four-year college degree are the biggest group in the new applicant pool.

Food producers and manufacturers gear up

Walz said he had a series of conference calls with the Medical Alley health care and technology companies as well as with food producers and labor unions. The purpose was to see what they were doing to help with the crisis and what they needed from the state.

“We’re bringing in some of their supply chain experts to get the things we need but also how does Minnesota ramp up our manufacturing capacity right here in a short amount of time to fill needs that won’t be filled by the strategic national stockpile,” Walz said of Medical Alley.

The food producers — General Mills, Cargill, Hormel, milk processors, Land O’Lakes and CHS — said they are confident in their ability to produce enough food and in their supply chains but worried about manpower for the spring planting and whether their workers would be considered essential in any shelter-in-place order.

On MinnPost:

Around the web:

MDH’s coronavirus website:

COVID-19 health questions hotline, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 03/24/2020 - 05:44 pm.

    In the absence of complete imperfect statistic might provide some useful info as to the progress of the disease: the ratio of daily testing to daily new cases. I had to massage Minn Dept of Health data to get these percentages. They graph out to fairly flat line thru March 15 and then the beginnings of a mild rise:

    Date % daily new cases per new test
    6-Mar 3.13%
    7-Mar 2.04%
    8-Mar 2.50%
    9-Mar 2.44%
    10-Mar 2.22%
    11-Mar 2.25%
    12-Mar 2.85%
    13-Mar 2.52%
    14-Mar 2.42%
    15-Mar 2.46%
    16-Mar 2.85%
    17-Mar 2.57%
    18-Mar 2.79%
    19-Mar 2.93%
    20-Mar 2.98%
    21-Mar 3.35%
    22-Mar 3.61%
    23-Mar 4.15%
    24-Mar 4.51%

    • Submitted by Greta Kaul on 03/25/2020 - 09:23 am.

      Hi Kurt, that’s certainly an instinct I had too. Problem is, we don’t know how many total tests are being done of Minnesota residents, since we’re only getting test totals from MDH and not from private labs. We’re getting the # of positive tests from all labs, but not the # that are negative. The denominator is bigger than just the MDH test #, and I’m not sure how much bigger. —Greta

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/25/2020 - 01:25 pm.

      Good work. What that data shows is there is no exponential growth at this time and hasn’t been all along. Which also would indicate as I pointed out below that we are closer to the end ie generation 20 area not 10.

      Each generation is about 4 to 5 days. So if we have say 200 infected (known cases) and if we suppress R0 down to 2 then after 4 or 5 days we should have 600 cases (as each sick person infects 2 more). 4 to 5 days later we’d have 1800 (1200 new cases) and so on. That’s clearly not happening so something else is going on. The data suggests a very high silent infection rate. Meaning many are getting it and never knowing they have it. Which is good if that’s happening because it’ll build herd immunity quickly without many sick people. If there isn’t a silent infection rate then this virus is not spreading by means they claim because we just aren’t getting the cases we should if it was. I think it’s the former and antibody testing will show if that’s right.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 03/24/2020 - 08:09 pm.

    I guess I’m a little surprised, given how the outbreak was (relatively) successfully handled in China and South Korea, and that we similarly were fairly on top of it early, that we’re still committed to a >40% infection rate. Is there really no path where we avoid that?

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