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The daily coronavirus update: 17 more deaths equal largest one-day spike in Minnesota

Most of the deaths were among residents of Hennepin County and elderly people living in long-term care.

COVID-19
COVID-19
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 21, 2020:

2,576 confirmed cases; 160 deaths 

Another 17 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, state health officials reported Tuesday, bringing the state’s total deaths from the pandemic to 160. The deaths represent the largest one-day spike in deaths so far, though 17 also died on April 17.

Most of the deaths were among residents of Hennepin County and elderly people living in long-term care. The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests.

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There have been 2,567 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 97 from Monday. Because Minnesota doesn’t have the capacity to test everybody with symptoms, the number of people with the virus is assumed to be significantly higher. 

Since the start of the outbreak, 629 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 237 are currently in the hospital, 117 in intensive care. Of the 2,567 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 1,254 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 47,697 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

Long-term care deaths continue

Of the 160 people who have died from COVID-19 in Minnesota, 113 were residents of long-term care facilities. MDH officials say preventing spread in long-term care outbreaks continues to be a focus for them.

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
Kris Ehresmann, MDH infectious disease director, said the spread to the facilities is likely coming from outsiders in most cases. While that may include visitors, since they have been restricted it also includes staff who must care for the elderly. The disease can spread rapidly within long-term housing because people live in close quarters. 

Ehresmann said people can transmit COVID-19 roughly 48 hours before showing symptoms, and said the public should not assume care workers were on the job while “blatantly ill.”

The state is actively coordinating to prevent infections in long-term care facilities with small outbreaks and implement plans to head off larger ones that staff at a facility may need extra help with. Michelle Larson, health regulation director at MDH, said the agency is creating a phone line similar to 911 and 411 to help long-term care operators get help “at all hours of the day.”

The state has listed 90 assisted-living facilities in which at least one staff member, visiting service provider or resident has tested positive for COVID-19, though MDH has so far refused to identify outbreaks in facilities with fewer than 10 residents.

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Black residents overrepresented in confirmed cases

While the state has been posting the race and ethnicity of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or died from the disease, MDH officials initially cautioned against drawing conclusions from data that was incomplete and not representative of the state.

Ehresmann said the data is still not perfect, but that black residents make up 13 percent of known cases so far, which is higher than the roughly 7 percent black population in Minnesota. “Certainly we’re seeing an incidence rate … in our black population that’s higher than what we’re seeing in our white population,” Ehresmann said.

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Jan Malcolm, MDH commissioner, said black Minnesotans face disproportionate rates of illnesses that “tend to make a person more vulnerable to severe disease.” In a presentation for state lawmakers posted online, MDH said it wants to “dramatically” ramp up testing that would ensure communities of color can know if they have the disease.

While black people are dying at disproportionate rates elsewhere in the country, so far data reported by the state black Minnesotans account for 5 percent of deaths, compared to 13 percent of known infections.

Testing news expected in ‘very near future’

MDH has said supply chain issues have stymied Minnesota’s ability to test more Minnesotans for COVID-19. There’s still no definitive word on when the state’s testing capacity will increase, but Malcolm said Minnesotans can expect “much more to come on that in the very near future.”

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz has pointed to enhanced ability to test people — both for COVID-19 infection and for antibodies that suggest they have already had the virus — as a prerequisite to being able to lift some of the COVID-19-related restrictions on Minnesota residents.

Last week, both the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota said they can increase Minnesota’s testing capacity significantly and are asking the state for funding to do so.

To-date, fewer than 48,000 people have been tested in Minnesota, and Walz has said he would like to see far more testing before lifting some of the restrictions on Minnesotans amid COVID-19. Specifically, Walz has said he would like to see Minnesota able to test 40,000 people per week.

Tests for COVID-19 aren’t ramping up quickly enough, Malcolm said, but noted a smaller number of tests reported in recent days is partly a reflection of a lag in reporting.

DNR guidance for boating season

As the weather improves and people prepare to get on the water, the Department of Natural Resources has issued some guidelines for those boating during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

First and foremost, boaters should maintain a 6-foot distance from others at all times, including at fuel stations and community docks. The DNR also says only people in an immediate household should be on a boat together, and that boaters should stick close to home and travel to the water access sites without making other stops. When fueling a boat, wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer. Finally, anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has symptoms of the disease should stay home. 

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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