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The daily coronavirus update: 14 more deaths; big backlog for Minnesota pork processing

Twelve of the 14 people whose deaths were announced Monday were residents of long-term care.

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 April 27, 2020:

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3,816 confirmed cases; 286 deaths

Fourteen more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Monday, for a total of 286.

Of the deaths announced Monday, 11 were Hennepin County residents, two were Ramsey County residents and one was a Winona County resident. Among them were:

  • Six people in their 90s
  • One person in their 80s
  • Three people in their 70s
  • Three people in their 60s
  • One person in their 50s (a resident of long-term care)

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Twelve of the 14 people whose deaths were announced Monday were residents of long-term care.

The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests.

MDH also said Monday there have been 3,816 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 214 from Sunday’s count. Because testing capacity had been limited, the number of people with the virus is assumed to be significantly higher.

The number of positive cases is expected to increase more quickly as Minnesota begins to test more people. Last week, state officials said anyone with COVID-19 like symptoms should be able to get tested. Previously, tests had been limited to specific populations whose results mattered most for public health.

Since the start of the outbreak, 861 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 292 are currently in the hospital, 122 in intensive care. Of the 3,816 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 1,842 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 61,268 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

Pork processing backlog

The increase in 214 cases reported Monday includes many new confirmed cases in Southwest Minnesota, health officials said, where an outbreak of COVID-19 shut down the JBS Pork processing facility in Worthington indefinitely.

Between the closure and JBS and the one at Smithfield, across the border in Sioux Falls, the capacity to process hogs is down drastically: Agricultural Commissioner Thom Petersen estimated more than 50 percent of Minnesota hogs are processed at those two plants.

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As MinnPost’s Walker Orenstein has written about, that’s a big problem for pig farmers, for whom timing is important: there’s a narrow window when pigs are an ideal weight to send to the processing facility.

Petersen said his agency is working to build out capacity at smaller meat processing facilities, and some plants are working Saturdays to help alleviate the backlog, which he estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 pigs per week. Farmers are using feed that causes pigs to gain weight more slowly and keeping them on their farms for longer in some cases.

Despite these efforts, many pigs will be euthanized, the commissioner said, as some were already last week.

“We’re taking every step to not have that happen,” Petersen said.

It’s not just a processing backlog that’s causing problems for the food supply chain: consumers are eating at home more, which changes consumption habits (chickens are being euthanized too, due to a fall in demand for eggs). Packaging also hasn’t kept up with the switch to more people eating at home, Petersen said.

What will all of this mean for Minnesota consumers?

There could be some shortages of products in stores, as well as price hikes.

“It’ll become more pronounced depending on how long we’re in this situation with COVID-19,” he said.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

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