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The daily coronavirus update: 9 more deaths; Walz says news on schools, school sports coming this week

The number of people with COVID-19 in the ICU has increased by 70 percent in a week.

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 20, 2020:

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2,470 confirmed cases; 143 deaths

Nine more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 143.

The youngest person whose death was announced Monday was in their 50s, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. Two were in their sixties and seventies and the rest were in their eighties and nineties. Malcolm did not say whether they had underlying health conditions.

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

MDH also said Monday there have been 2,470 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 114 from Sunday’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.

Since the start of the outbreak, 602 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 237 are currently in the hospital, 126 in intensive care. The number of people in the ICU has increased by 70 percent in a week. Of the 2,470 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 1,202 patients no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 46,850 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

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No news on end of stay-at-home

Officials had no concrete information on when businesses and schools will open. Gov. Tim Walz said to expect more news on schools — and school sports — this week.

“I don’t want to set up any false expectations. I think anything you play close together where you’re touching the same ball or you’re in large groups, that’s going to be hard,” he said. “I come back to the idea that I think the things we miss the most are some of the hardest things to get started again and that’s difficult for me. At this point in time i’m not super optimistic about it.”

As for whether Minnesotans should expect an extension of the stay-at-home order, which started March 27 and is currently slated to end May 4, Walz said: “I think what we’re probably getting used to is modification of it,” suggesting he will loosen things up a little at a time rather than remove the order wholesale.

“Having a clear cut plan to test, trace, isolate and then build plans of social distancing and near normal is our surest way to get in,” Walz said.

Walz has said he would like to see Minnesota have a capacity to do 40,000 tests a week. In recent weeks, it’s tested between 8,000 and 11,000, but he said he hopes to see significant progress toward the higher number this week.

Walz and Trump talk

Walz said he received a call Saturday night from President Trump that was in response to Walz’s call to the White House Friday after Trump appeared to encourage protests at the governor’s mansion with a Tweet that said “Liberate Minnesota.”

Walz said he thinks the president had been contacted by some Minnesota business leaders who said the state had been responding well to the crisis. Trump tweeted this Monday morning: “Received a very nice call from @GovTimWalz of Minnesota. We are working closely on getting him all he needs, and fast. Good things happening!”

“His tweet summed it up the way I would,” Walz said. “It went very well. We committed to working together. He can tweet what he wants to, but here in Minnesota they really want him to succeed, they really want our state to succeed. This is not an either/or proposition. We’ll see how things go going forward.

“It made me a little more comfortable that we’re not going to get sidetracked into things that take us away from the main mission,” Walz said. The call lasted about 10 minutes during which Walz described the state’s efforts and asked how the state and federal plans could better align. He also said he expressed concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment and testing capacity.

“I understand the frustrations,” Walz said of the protests outside the governor’s mansion Friday. “But I did express to the president that I’m not sure that’s really helpful at this point in time and if there’s anything that he needs me to do, it would be better if he would just call and we could talk. It’s just not healthy to play it out in a public setting where there’s no real back and forth.”

Worthington plant closed indefinitely

On Monday, JBS Pork announced it would indefinitely shutter its Worthington processing plant, a hotspot for COVID-19 infections in southwest Minnesota.

Of 77 confirmed cases in Nobles County as of Saturday — newer tests haven’t come back yet, MDH has completed 41 interviews — a challenge, Malcolm said, because more than 40 languages are spoken just at the JBS plant, many people are highly mobile and some don’t have phones. Of the 41, 33 positive cases are employees of the JBS plant and six are family members of employees.

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Malcolm said the state is working with community leaders to communicate the importance of getting tested to those who might be undocumented or worry about the cost of getting tested.

“We’ve absolutely made it an issue that cost should not be a barrier nor should documentation status,” she said. “It’s critical to the public health that we understand who’s been exposed and keep them and their families safe.”

The plant has about 2,000 employees, who will continue to be paid during the shutdown.


Minnesota companies working with state

Walz praised Minnesota companies that have stepped up to help the state meet the challenge of COVID-19, donating employees to state working groups and other resources.

Ecolab, a St. Paul company that works on hygiene technology, has donated its executive vice president and president of global regions, Jill Wyant, who Walz called an expert in procurement and supply chain management, to the task of helping source critical care supplies, Walz said.

“I hope Minnesotans know this is an all-state effort, this is public-private partnership, this is the best of our private sector, some of the most successful companies in the world have given their people to come over and help the state,” Walz said.

Global companies with expertise in supply chain and employees around the world have been helpful, stepping in to help vet procurement leads and vendors, said Department of Administration Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis.

This past weekend, 3M helped quickly identify a vendor that was selling counterfeit 3M masks, allowing the state to abandon the lead, she said.

In addition to Ecolab and 3M, Walz listed C.H. Robinson, Toro, Patterson and the Mayo Clinic among the companies that have helped. But small businesses have stepped up too, shifting their focus to helping produce items needed in the COVID-19 fight, Roberts-Davis said.

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