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The daily coronavirus update: 18 more deaths; Walz to announce stay-at-home order changes Thursday

MDH said Wednesday there have been 4,644 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 463 from Tuesday.

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 29, 2020:

4,644 confirmed cases; 319 deaths

Eighteen more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday, for a total of 319. 

Of the deaths announced Wednesday were:

  • Three people in their 90s
  • Six people in their 90s
  • Five people in their 70s
  • Two people in their 60s
  • One person in their 50s
  • One person in their 30s — the youngest person to have died in Minnesota of COVID-19 to-date — with significant underlying conditions 

All were either Hennepin or Ramsey County residents, and 16 of the 18 deaths announced Wednesday were among residents of long-term care facilities. 

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

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MDH also said Wednesday there have been 4,644 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 463 from Tuesday’s count. That increase in cases — the biggest to date, is partly a reflection of intensive testing in southwest Minnesota, where outbreaks have been associated with food processing plants, and partly a function of more testing, Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said.

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
The number of positives is expected to increase significantly as Minnesota begins to test more people under an initiative announced Wednesday to test as many as 20,000 Minnesotans per day. 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, 950 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 320 are currently in the hospital, 119 in intensive care. Of the 4,644 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 2,043 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 66,744 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

Walz expected to make an announcement on stay-at-home order Thursday

Gov. Tim Walz is expected to make an announcement about his stay-at-home order Thursday afternoon. The original order, which took effect March 27, was initially set to expire April 10 and was extended to May 4.

It’s unclear what Walz will call for Thursday afternoon in terms of any extension of the order or social distancing measures.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Walz has emphasized his preference for making tweaks to the order rather than removing it wholesale, often using the metaphor of a dial instead of an on-off switch.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday many of the measures Minnesotans have been living under will stay in place.

That includes staying close to home, the restriction of large gatherings and close contact with those outside the household, being careful in public settings and the recommendation to wear masks.

When things do open up, Malcolm said officials expect more opportunities for transmission. 

“It’s kind of all about having the health care capacity to deal with that and the testing and the follow-up and the contact tracing and the appropriate isolation and quarantine to stay on top of those emerging infections as we find them,” she said.

Unemployment applications rise despite relaxed business rules

More than 564,00 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment insurance benefits since March 16, state economic officials said Wednesday. There have been nearly 18,000 applicants this week, despite a move to relax restrictions on which businesses can operate during the pandemic.

While the total applications continue to rise, there has been a “sustained downward trend” in the number of daily applications over the last few weeks, said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Screen shot
DEED Commissioner Steve Grove
Grove said the state has now issued benefits to more than 40,000 self-employed workers or independent contractors who are newly eligible for unemployment benefits after changes to the program in the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act stimulus package. He said many applications are still being processed and the state will backdate payments to when people are first eligible.

The benefits took weeks to become available since it required a new system of tracking income created by DEED.

As the state works to let more businesses operate, Grove said the state, with the help of Target, has launched an online health screening tool for employers to track employee symptoms. It uses aggregate data that doesn’t identify individuals, and Grove said hundreds of businesses have already signed up.

He also said Target will sell no-touch, infrared thermometers to businesses at cost for employers to screen their workers. While temperature checks aren’t required by the state, they are a “highly recommended practice,” Grove said.

Minnesota signs lease for alternative care site 

The state announced Wednesday that it had finalized a lease for the use of a former nursing home — Presbyterian Homes-Langton Shores in Roseville – in the event that more capacity is needed in hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.

Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said the site, which can house up to 100 beds, would be used for non-critical patients, not COVID-19 patients.

“Hospital patients belong in real hospitals. And that means that these community-based alternate care sites will only be used if there are no other options. We hope we don’t ever need to use them,” he said.

The Presbyterian Homes site will be relatively easy and inexpensive to convert for patient care, Kelly said. 

Walz clarifies stay-at-home as it pertains to homeless encampments

Also Wednesday, Walz signed an executive order clarifying an exemption of homeless people from the stay-at-home order. 

The order says neither new nor existing encampments should be subject to sweeps, which might spread COVID-19, but that law enforcement may address trespassing or urgent circumstances, such as threats to life, prevention of injury or preserving evidence.

Local governments may intervene to restrict, limit or close encampments if sufficient MDH-compliant alternative housing is provided, or if encampments are a threat to public health, safety or security.

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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