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The daily coronavirus update: Largest one-day increase in deaths and confirmed cases since start of outbreak

Meanwhile, Gov. Tim Walz eased some restrictions on outdoor recreation, including allowing golf courses to open.

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 17, 2020:

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2,071 confirmed cases; 111 deaths

Seventeen more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 111. This represents the largest number of deaths announced in a single day yet.

The deaths announced Friday were:

  • Nine Hennepin County residents
  • Two Winona County residents
  • 1 resident each of Dakota, St. Louis, Nicollet, Clay, Anoka and Rice counties

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Most of the people whose deaths were announced Friday were in their nineties, eighties and seventies. Two were in their sixties.

The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests, but Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said Friday MDH is gathering information from death certificates for people whom doctors or medical examiners listed as having died of COVID-related causes and will have more data on them in the coming weeks.

MDH also said Friday there have been 2,071 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 159 from Thursday’s count. The jump in cases between Thursday and Friday represents the largest to-date. 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, 518 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 223 are currently in the hospital, 106 in intensive care. Of the 2,071 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 1,066 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 43,053 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

Some restrictions on outdoor activity lifted

Walz issued an executive order Friday that exempts some outdoor activities from his previous stay at home order.

“… As spring arrives, Minnesotans are asking how the current Stay at Home Order and social distancing guidelines pertain to outdoor recreation,” the order states. “Although Minnesotans are strongly encouraged to stay close to their primary residences, many outdoor recreational activities are available close to Minnesotans’ homes and can be done safely.”

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The order allows activities that can be done in keeping with social distancing guidelines of keeping six feet between people. To that end, Walz will allow the opening of bait shops, outdoor shooting ranges and game farms, public and private parks and trails and golf courses and driving ranges. Walz’s order will allow the use of golf carts but he suggests single riders or sticking to related golf partners in a cart. It also allows marina services to reopen, dock installation and other lake services as well as boat and off-highway vehicle sales and repair, the latter by appointment only

Still closed are campgrounds, outdoor recreational equipment retail stores, recreational equipment rental, charter boats, launches and guided fishing.

Gov. Tim Walz discussing updates on the state's response to COVID-19.
Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News via AP, Pool
Gov. Tim Walz discussing updates on the state's response to COVID-19.
Walz said Friday the new order is an example of gradual relaxing of closures and stay-at-home rules that will accelerate as his current stay at home order expires May 4. Another order could follow that one but will likely look different, he said, and allow additional work and activities.

“We are crafting that plan together with businesses, with the commissioner of health, with the commissioner of labor,” Walz said (more on that here). “We’re asking businesses to come up and show what their plan is, share it with their employees and do these best practices.” But having testing available to see if workers are sick or have been sick and now are immune is vital, he said.

“You could open up your business but if people think they’re gonna get COVID there they’re not going to shop whether it is opened by an executive order or not.

“There will be more things open,” Walz said Friday. “Hopefully a significant number of people are working that were not critical jobs, they are social distancing at work, they are coming home, they are going out to play a round of golf – a twosome with a disinfected cart. It’s gonna be different but it’s more towards that.”

Walz warned that the activities people are most interested in might be the last to reopen in any form.

“The things we probably want more than anything — big sporting events, crowded bars and restaurants, large backyard parties — are gonna be some of the last things that come back on,” Walz said.

As for schools, the governor said he hasn’t decided yet but “to be very candid … I think it’s unlikely that we will come back.” His caveat was that testing and treatment developments are moving quickly and could change the picture.

COVID-19 cases at Worthington pork plant

Less than a week after a cluster of COVID-19 cases shut down the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, coronavirus has been identified at the JBS pork plant in Worthington.

JBS Pork had seven confirmed cases as of Friday afternoon, but public health officials expect that number to jump as they learn more. The number of cases in Nobles County increased from 19 to more than 30 overnight, Ehresmann said.

Many workers at JBS have family members who work across the border for Smithfield, which potentially explains the exposure, officials said.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm providing an update on the confirmed COVID-19 cases that have surfaced at JBS Pork processing plant.
Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News via AP, Pool
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm providing an update on the confirmed COVID-19 cases that have surfaced at JBS Pork processing plant.
State and local health officials are working closely with the company to instate testing and safety protocols to keep the plant operating, Walz said. The plant has 2,000 employees, and keeping it open is not just a matter of their jobs but also the national food supply chain.

“The plant is up and running. They have implemented many changes to the plant in terms of getting out [personal protective equipment] to their workers, putting  up shields, and they have indicated to us the desire to go further,” Walz said.

Trump tweets support of stay-at-home protest

President Donald Trump tweeted a message in support of a group protesting Minnesota’s stay-at-home order Friday: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”

Hundreds flocked to the governor’s residence, calling on Gov. Tim Walz to reopen businesses in a protest organized by a group calling itself “Liberate Minnesota.”

Walz said Friday he supports their right to protest but said he would open the economy only based on carefully considered plans based on the ability to test people, trace the contacts of people who have been infected, and isolate people to stop the spread of the virus.

“I’m frustrated too, like I said, I want this to be over as much as anybody. If I thought we could go back to work tomorrow that’s exactly what we would do,” he said.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

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