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The daily coronavirus update: 21 more deaths; gig workers, the self-employed to start receiving unemployment benefits

 The state also has 172 long-term care facilities with at least one known case of COVID-19 among staff or residents.

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 24, 2020:

3,185 total confirmed cases; 221 deaths 

Twenty one more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 221. Of the deaths announced Friday, 16 were from Hennepin County, three people were residents of Ramsey County and one resident in each of Anoka and Olmsted counties.

The ages of those who died are as follows:

  • One person in their 100s
  • Three people in their 90s
  • Six people in their 80s
  • Seven people in their 70s
  • Two people in their 60s
  • Two people in their 50s who had underlying health conditions.

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

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MDH also said Friday there have been 3,185 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 243 from Thursday’s count. Because Minnesota hasn’t had the capacity to test everybody with symptoms, the number of people with the virus is assumed to be significantly higher. 

The number of confirmed cases 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. On Wednesday, 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.

Gov. Tim Walz
Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News/Pool
Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz said Friday that Minnesota is starting to see more positive tests already. “That’s a result of more testing but also a result of the spread of COVID-19,” Walz said.

Since the start of the outbreak, 756 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 278 are currently in the hospital, 111 in intensive care. Of the 3,185 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 1,594 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 53,787 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

Deaths and cases continue to rise in long-term care

COVID-19 continues to spread through Minnesota’s long-term care facilities. Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director for the Minnesota Department of Health, said there are 172 facilities with at least one known positive case among staff or residents.

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Since the outbreak began, a total of 820 residents of long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19 as well as 303 health care workers. Most deaths from the disease in the state have been residents of long-term care facilities. Of the 21 deaths announced Friday, 18 were long-term care residents.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the industry is facing staffing shortages, too. Long-term care was already a “stressed workforce,” a problem exacerbated by sick workers and the need for increased infection controls.  

DEED to start paying unemployment benefits for gig workers, the self-employed

Self-employed workers and independent contractors can now access unemployment benefits that were expanded by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act stimulus package approved by Congress in March.

The state Department of Employment and Economic Development has worked for weeks to get federal guidance on how to administer money to the newly eligible. That process is finally finished and the state has begun paying benefits. 

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Up until now, DEED has been urging people who are newly eligible for unemployment under the CARES Act to apply for benefits even though they would be turned down while the state stood up its new system. DEED says they will be in touch with most people who are eligible for those benefits by the end of April and there is no need to call or follow-up. All payments will be backdated to whenever a person first became eligible because of COVID-19.

DEED has already been giving out the additional $600 weekly payment that was included in the CARES Act, but has not been able to pay unemployment benefits to gig workers until now.

Since March 16, more than 540,000 people have applied for unemployment in Minnesota.

State unveils new testing website

State officials launched a new website Friday to help Minnesotans find places to get tested for COVID-19 as part of Minnesota’s effort to ramp up access across the state. The Walz administration has promised anyone who has symptoms should soon be able to get a test. 

There are 127 clinics and health care facilities in the testing collaborative. The website should update in “real-time” to show where tests are available, though it shows no testing facilities in some counties and few in some populated areas.

When might adequate testing be available in every county? Walz said it’s “going to take a few weeks,” but said “there needs to be a site in relative easy location” for everyone in the state.

Little information on fixes to distance learning

Walz and Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker acknowledged that there are problems with distance learning, which will now be used for the rest of this school year. Other than saying they are working on it, however, they offered few details on solutions.

Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/Pool
Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker
Ricker said that the state might use some of the federal CARES Act money devoted to education to purchase and distribute laptops and other hardware. But neither she nor Walz proposed any immediate responses to complaints from teachers and parents about spotty or non-existent internet access.

“We know distance learning hasn’t been going perfectly,” Ricker said. “It’s actually been really hard.” 

She said she instructed staff to make improvements, including “recommitting to intentional relationship building,” improving support for parents and collecting examples of what has worked to share with teachers via webinars.

She said a working group has been working with public and private entities to get broadband access and devices to students and that it will be “the highest priority for some of our new federal dollars.” 

Lt Gov. Peggy Flanagan said the state already had inequities in education but that the COVID crisis and the closure of schools have exacerbated them. “We’ve heard some say that COVID-19 is the great equalizer, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said. “What this crisis has done has laid bare the inequities that already existed in our state.”

Details on extending stay at home order coming by mid-week

Walz said he knows residents and businesses are anxious for news on the stay-at-home order and public places ban that both expire May 4. He has said that he expects them to continue in some form but with modifications. Most of the states in the Midwest consortium of governors have already extended them into mid-May.

“I understand that uncertainty at this time is the worst. It opens up space for confusion or potentially rumors,” Walz said. 

Minnesota has done better than most on social distancing and slowing new infections. But the number of infections continues to grow and models don’t predict a peak until mid-May or later.

“I don’t want to be driven by an arbitrary date or arbitrary numbers,” Walz said. “I want to see how Minnesota is responding.” 

But in the outline the governor unveiled Thursday about how the state will begin to open again, the activities that are predictable — and have the best ability to practice social distancing — will open first. Bars and restaurants,  he said, are far down on that list.

Walz said he is sensitive to complaints about big-box stores being able to stay open but small retailers having to remain closed. “It’s a valid point,” he said. “But you have to have a systematic way to” re-open small retail stores.

As announced Thursday, about 20,000 businesses can reopen Monday with up to 100,000 workers. Small shops are next on the dial or what can reopen, Walz said. 

Today on MinnPost

Around the web

  • Sounds like coronavirus was in the U.S. earlier than previously suspected. Do you think you had coronavirus a while back? Lots do. New York Times.
  • The NFL held its first remote draft Thursday night and viewers got a peek inside the homes of top team executives. The Washington Post has an entertaining round up of the best and worst home offices. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had quite the lair.
  • 360 deaths of 22,000? A Star Tribune explainer on why Minnesota’s COVID-19 models are so different.

MDH’s coronavirus website:

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