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The daily coronavirus update: 65 of Minnesota’s 87 deaths so far tied to long-term care facilities

The Minnesota Department of Health said 1,809 people have tested positive for COVID-19, up 114 from Tuesday.

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 15, 2020:

1,809 confirmed cases; 87 deaths 

Eight more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, state health officials reported Wednesday. There have now been 87 deaths from coronavirus in the state. Six people who died were residents of Hennepin County, including two people in their 90s, one person in their 80s and three people in their 70s. A Clay County resident in their 70s and a St. Louis County resident in their 90s also died.

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The Minnesota Department of Health said 1,809 people have tested positive for COVID-19, up 114 from Tuesday. Because Minnesota doesn’t have the capacity to test everybody with symptoms, however, the number of people with the virus is assumed to be significantly higher.

Since the outbreak began, 445 people have been hospitalized because of the illness, and 197 are currently in the hospital. Of those, 93 are in intensive care, up from 75 on Tuesday.

There are 940 people who previously tested positive for COVID-19 but no longer need to be isolated because they have recovered.

More information on cases can be found here.

Deaths continue among those in long-term care facilities 

COVID-19 continues to spread and kill in Minnesota’s long-term care facilities. All eight Minnesotans whose deaths were announced Wednesday had been long-term care residents, and now 65 of the state’s 87 deaths were associated with assisted living facilities for the elderly.

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Jan Malcolm, MDH commissioner, said the facilities are a “particularly ripe environment” for spreading COVID-19 since the disease is often more severe for the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. There are now 108 facilities in which there has been at least one lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 among staff or residents.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
But despite the grisly numbers, Malcolm said the facilities have been working hard to implement infection control practices along with state health officials and some early indications show the efforts are having a positive impact. For instance, half of those 108 facilities have only one case. “Which really does suggest to us that infection control is helping limit the spread of those infections,” Malcolm said.

While people may be considering pulling family members from long-term care, Malcolm said it may not be worth the risks created by moving people to new housing. Given that concern and the work of facilities to create safer living, long-term care facilities are still “in many respects the safest environment for our loved ones,” Malcolm said.

Resolving testing shortages still key for going back to work

Malcolm acknowledged that the level of testing for COVID-19 in the state fell off in the last week compared to previous weeks, the wrong direction if Minnesota hopes to have adequate testing as part of a gradual back-to-work scenario. She attributed the decline to the Easter/Passover holiday week that reduced the number of tests and expected the number to rebound and continue to climb.

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz
Walz said that a shortage of personal protective equipment and staff for testing is as much of a problem as a shortage of the tests. He said the flattening of the infection curve has begun to allow more PPE to be available, and that he is pushing state health staff and the health care system to reach 5,000 tests per day — both a nasal swab test for active COVID cases and a blood test to show who has been exposed and recovered — by May 4 and perhaps sooner.

“To do anything less is going to have us stuck in this place that is unsustainable and we can’t get people back as fast,” Walz said. “Until we get a vaccine, we’re gonna have to identify who is sick and we think we can identify who has had this.” He cited an Icelandic analysis that suggested that half of those with antibodies had no symptoms.

The blood test — called a serology test — would be given first to health care workers and other essential workers to show that they are immune because of exposures that caused no symptoms. It could then be expanded to other workers.

“You can’t just say you want to restart because then you end up with a Smithfield,” Walz said, referencing the South Dakota pork processing plant closed due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among workers. “It does us no good to send everybody back to work and then get everybody sick.”

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Unemployment tops 464,000; DEED adds another federal benefit

Since March 16, 464,513 people have applied for unemployment benefits in Minnesota, DEED officials said Wednesday. The system is now paying out roughly $76 million a week, said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, in a Senate hearing.

In total, roughly 14 percent of Minnesota’s labor force has applied for unemployment insurance. 

While DEED continues to build its technology and capacity to hand out unemployment to people who are newly eligible for benefits due to federal legislation, including independent contractors, Grove said the state has now instituted an extra 13 weeks of benefits for the program that was approved by the congressional CARES act.

The state has also benefited from the federal Paycheck Protection loan program, in which eligible businesses can get loans to keep workers employed. Under certain circumstances, the loans are forgivable. Grove said Minnesota has received the third-highest loan money per capita in the country. Overall, 33,819 loans have been doled out, worth $7.6 billion. The average loan has been $225,713.

The FDA approves a UMN ventilator design

A low-cost ventilator designed by researchers at the University of Minnesota has been approved for production by federal officials, the school said Wednesday. In a news release, the U said the ventilator is the first of its kind authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Designs for the ventilator, which is intended to be used as a backup when supplies of traditional machinery are scarce, will be released “open source,” so that manufacturers around the world can make them.

The U said financial support for the project was provided by Midwest companies Digi-Key, MGC Diagnostics and Protolabs, as well as the New York Company Teknic, Inc.

Boston Scientific helped with the design and the U said Medtronic gave input that helped the school clear the FDA regulatory process.

Today on MinnPost

  • The Minnesota Legislature finally passed an emergency insulin bill. State government reporter Peter Callaghan has the details.
  • Self-employed and contract workers are now eligible for unemployment benefits in Minnesota. D.C. Correspondent Gabe Schneider on what you need to know.
  • The MPCA delayed gathering public comments on a vehicle emissions rule because of COVID-19. So why didn’t the agency didn’t delay public comments on permits for an oil pipeline?
  • Artscape columnist Pamela Espeland caught up with The Cedar’s David Hamilton.
  • Asking yourself how long it’s been since this all started? We have too. 
  • As always, a look at the numbers on the MinnPost COVID-19 dashboard.

Around the web

  • Mayo says it has the capacity to deliver testing needed to reopen the state’s economy, the Forum News Service reports.
  • The CDC and FEMA have created a plan to reopen America. The Washington Post reports on what it says.
  • The coronavirus has even reached oil rigs far out in the Gulf of Mexico, reports The Advocate in Louisiana. More than two dozen offshore workers on seven platforms have tested positive for COVID-19.

For more information, visit the MDH’s coronavirus website

Or call the state’s coronavirus hotline, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920