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The daily coronavirus update: 7 deaths; U of M proposes 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day

The U is requesting $20 million from the Minnesota Legislature to reach its testing goal.

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 16, 2020:

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1,912 confirmed cases; 94 deaths

Seven more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday, for a total of 94. Of the deaths announced Thursday, five were Hennepin County residents and two were Ramsey County residents.

MDH also said Thursday there have been 1,912 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 103 from Wednesday’s count. 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.

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Since the start of the outbreak, 475 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 213 are currently in the hospital, 103 in intensive care. Of the 1,912 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 1,020 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 41,675 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

U of M testing proposal: $20 million for 20,000 tests per day

The University of Minnesota announced Thursday it is asking the Legislature to put $20 million toward a plan to significantly increase its capacity to conduct two types of COVID-19 tests that could help slow the spread of the virus and determine who’s safe to go back to work.

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz
The U proposes to conduct 10,000 molecular tests a day — the type that determine whether or not someone is currently infected with COVID-19. These tests can help isolate infected people to slow the spread of COVID-19, and detect hotspots where intervention is needed.

The U said it could also perform 10,000 serology tests, which detect antibodies from past infection and suggest a person has some immunity. These tests may be able to help determine who’s safe to go back to work.

While shortages of supplies — from lab chemicals to swabs — have plagued testing strategies in the U.S., the U says its test kits would be made from routine lab supplies and chemicals and will not face the same other labs have.

Gov. Tim Walz has said isolation and testing are paramount to any strategy to get Minnesotans back to work. He said last week he would like to see 5,000 molecular tests per day, along with greatly increased serologic testing capacity.

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Read the U’s proposal here.

The Mayo Clinic said earlier this week it can produce 7,000 molecular tests and 10,000 serologic tests per day  (though it aims to reach 20,000 of the latter if the demand is there).

Midwest compact

With more than 460,000 Minnesotans having filed for unemployment since mid-March, pressure has been mounting for Minnesota to announce a plan to reopen its economy.

No word on that yet, but Walz’s office announced Thursday that Minnesota is joining a group of Midwestern states that will work together to reopen the regional economy. Similar initiatives have been announced on the east and west coasts.

The states involved are Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky (perhaps we buried the lead: Kentucky is in the Midwest?).

Details are scant, but a statement from the governors said the states will make data-driven determinations about getting people back to work based on rates of infections and hospitalizations, testing and contact tracing ability, sufficient health care capacity and workplace social distancing best practices.

“Phasing in sectors of our economy will be most effective when we work together as a region. This doesn’t mean our economy will reopen all at once, or that every state will take the same steps at the same time. But close coordination will ensure we get this right” it reads.

Minutes after the announcement, political commentary began flying on social media: all the states involved have stay-at-home orders. Absent from the group are three of Minnesota’s neighbors, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, which do not have stay-at-home orders.

More in neighbor news: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced an extension of his state’s stay-at-home order to May 26.

Safety first in severe weather

April marks the beginning of severe weather season in Minnesota, and MDH has gotten questions about whether storm shelters at manufactured home parks should remain open amid coronavirus concerns.

Yes, said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm Thursday. MDH is requiring them to remain open and residents should put their immediate safety first in the event of severe weather.

“If you would have sought protection in a storm shelter last year during a tornado you should do so again this year without letting concerns of COVID-19 prevent you from doing that,” she said.

That said, anyone using storm shelters should, if possible, practice social distancing, wear cloth face masks, cough or sneeze into sleeves and avoid face-touching.

Free help to quit smoking

Being a smoker heightens the risk associated with all sorts of illnesses, including COVID-19.

Minnesotans who want to quit smoking can get free help through an MDH program launched April 1 called Quit Partner, Malcolm said. And they don’t need to leave their houses to do it.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

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