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The daily coronavirus update: Up to 100,000 Minnesotans could go back to work Monday

COVID-19
Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert
COVID-19

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 23, 2020:

2,942 confirmed cases; 200 deaths

Twenty-one more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 200.

Among the 21 deaths announced Thursday were:

  • 10 Hennepin County residents
  • 3 Ramsey County residents
  • 3 Winona County residents
  • 2 Washington County residents
  • 2 Olmsted County residents
  • 1 Clay County resident

Nine were in their eighties, six were in their nineties, three were in their seventies, two were in their sixties and one was in their fifties. All but one were residents of long-term care facilities. The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests.

MDH also said Thursday there have been 2,942 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 221 from Wednesday 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.

The number of positives 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.

Since the start of the outbreak, 712 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 268 are currently in the hospital, 104 in intensive care. Of the 2,942 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 1,536 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered.

A total of 51,548 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

More Minnesotans can go back to work Monday

Gov. Tim Walz made something of a surprise announcement Thursday after he signed an executive order allowing some businesses — previously considered non-essential — to return to on-site work.

In Executive Order 20-40, Walz said that industrial, manufacturing and office work places that do not deal with customers in person and that can operate under social distancing guidelines can open on Monday. The state estimates that 20,000 workplaces that employ between 80,000 and 100,000 people could be covered by the order.

They would join the 2.6 million state workers who have already been on the job throughout the stay at home order.

Steve Grove, the commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said businesses can reopen if they choose but that each must craft a plan that covers how they will operate safely. The state does not require those plans be submitted and approved but they must be available should state inspectors request them. But Walz said that workers for those businesses who can work from home must continue to do so.

Gov. Tim Walz made something of a surprise announcement Thursday after he signed an executive order allowing some businesses — previously considered non-essential — to return to on-site work.
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/Pool
Gov. Tim Walz made something of a surprise announcement Thursday after he signed an executive order allowing some businesses — previously considered non-essential — to return to on-site work.
Workers on unemployment insurance whose jobs are restarting must return to work unless they are sick, caring for a COVID-19 patient or caring for children who are home schooling. There will be help on the state DEED website to find child care.

Walz said he is looking at workplaces and other settings based on the size of the population working there and the predictability of the work. A factory that can spread out workstations and monitor the health of workers is predictable, he said. A crowd in a baseball stadium is not.

“I wish I could even envision when we’re going to back in a crowded stadium,” Walz said. “But that is at the end of the marathon. But at this point in time there are some opportunities.” But Walz stressed that he is not lifting the stay-at-home order which expires May 4 and will likely be extended in some form. He credited the adherence to stay at home for keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed.

“By cutting down unnecessary travel, by staying home and the sacrifices you make have put us in the position where we can start thinking about how do we start turning the dial and normalizing some of the things that have been taken away,” Walz said.

The change was praised by the state’s largest business group.

“We appreciate the Governor’s recognition of returning more businesses to protect our state’s economy,” said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. “Employers are taking meaningful steps to protect the health and safety of their employees. Others are poised to reopen responsibly and get our economy moving.”

Why Minnesota is diverging from federal guidelines

Walz’s plan is different than one proposed by the federal government called “Opening Up America Again,” which prescribes a 14-day downward trajectory in COVID-19 and flu-like illness, a 14-day downward trajectory in cases and sufficient hospital capacity or testing of health care workers before significantly re-opening the economy.

Why start to open now, while confirmed cases — and deaths — still appear to be on the rise?

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove
Screen shot
DEED Commissioner Steve Grove
Walz said he thinks the federal guidance is critically important, but said the unique nature of states may warrant different approaches.

Walz said he thinks Minnesotans did a better job of social distancing on the front-end, leading to a flatter curve of disease spread than has been seen in other parts of the country. Besides, he said, there isn’t necessarily any magic to the 14 days number.

“We think there is a more nuanced approach, we think there is a more public health approach as it intersects with well-being and social distancing,” he said.

As for moving the dial this time, Walz said so far, Minnesota’s outbreaks have centered largely around congregate living settings and businesses, like meat processing facilities, where people are working in close quarters. Many critical businesses seem to have remained open in relative safety, and with the proper precautions, other businesses taking similar measures may be able to do so, too.

In-person school’s out for summer

Also on Thursday, Walz signed an executive order extending the closure of in-person school through the end of the school year  (you can read much more on this and reactions from school districts from education reporter Erin Hinrichs here).

The decision wasn’t unexpected, given the trajectory of virus-related closures in the state, but it does dash any remaining hope of traditional proms and graduations for anyone who was holding out for them.

Keeping meat processing safe amid plant outbreaks

Minnesota Commissioner of Labor and Industry Nancy Leppink said she is working with the state’s animal processing plants to help them stay open but operate in different ways in light of a spate of infections at those types of workplaces. She said letters have been sent to all meat making operators in the state and stepped up in-person visits.

They are being coached on guidelines developed with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and asked about the health status of workers “so we can more quickly identify where there are problems so we can bring in Health and other support.”

Leppink said meat processing is at what she called a pressure point “because they are meeting the needs of farmers who need their hogs and their chickens and their turkeys processed.” But they have to operate differently and at less capacity than before. That includes slowing production lines, sequence shifts better, take longer to transition from lunch periods and work breaks and to ramp up health assessments of workers.

“And importantly, they need to look at their incentives for people to come to work sick,” she said. The plants have changed financial incentives to compensate for sick leave “so workers will stay home when they are sick.”

No fair?

Walz was asked Thursday whether he thought there was a chance the Minnesota State Fair could be held in August. That after fair officials said they preferred a full fair or no fair over a restricted version.

He did not have good news for fair lovers, of which he counts himself.

“This is important to Minnesotans,” Walz said. “We’re coming closer to it, we’re gonna listen to the health experts, but it pains me, pains me, pains me, the state fair falls on the right of the dial.” That references a graphic in Walz’s PowerPoint showing a slow return to normalcy — more like turning a dial than an on-off switch. Items on the right-side of the dial, like concerts, packed sporting events and yes, the State Fair, are likely to be the last to re-open.

“One of the greatest parts of the state fair is it’s super crowded, that you’re elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors, that everywhere you go you talk to somebody,” Walz said. “That’s the charm of the Minnesota State Fair. Unfortunately that is the worst thing for COVID-19 control.

“It’s a pretty tough lift,” he said. “I wouldn’t make a definitive call but I also don’t want to give any false hope on this. It’ll be very difficult to see a state fair operating.

Today on MinnPost

Around the web

MDH’s coronavirus website: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

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

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 04/24/2020 - 09:02 am.

    With 21 out of 22 deaths coming from long term care facilities, one might think to release the “stay in your basement” order and put 80% of our resources towards long term care patients. If the folks who are “in charge” ( like to have someone explain who that is exactly), are really concerned about every life, give all long term care patients COVID19 antibody plasma injections.
    It would also be interesting to see the average death rate of long term care patients without Coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately most folks in long term care are in poor health.

  2. Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/24/2020 - 09:17 am.

    Once again, this is a wonderful summary of Covid-19 events.

  3. Submitted by Barry Tungseth on 04/24/2020 - 09:32 am.

    Yesterday as I watched Gov. Walz and his staff do their Covid-19 briefing, I could only think about how professional and to the point they all were. Using graphics that are understandable, and speaking in such a respectful manner to Minnesotans, that it was REFRESHING! If [and I mean IF], president Trump had one 10th the leadership skills that the Gov`s he spouts off against had, This country would be so much better off. Thank you Gov. Walz for being the leader we elected you to be in such dire times.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 04/24/2020 - 10:24 am.

      Barry, did the graphs show healthy 42 year olds (average age of workforce) have almost a 0% chance of dying from COVID 19? Did the graphs show average age of folks dying from COVID 19 being 86+, with underlying health issues? Did the graphs show you long term care facilities are where most deaths are happening?
      Just wondering what those beautiful charts actually said.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 04/24/2020 - 10:39 am.

        No, Governor Walz doesn’t utilize “die for the Dow” graphics (or that philosophy, either, thank goodness!).

        • Submitted by joe smith on 04/24/2020 - 11:06 am.

          Pat, those are all facts,,!! Why would you not inform the public, who you work for, who is dying and at risk from this Virus.? The headline here at Minnpost usually reads age of those who died from COVID 19, how many were in long term care (21 out of yesterday’s 22) and actual facts about who is at risk, thank you Minnpost. To not include these FACTS, in a presentation to Minnesotans, is dereliction of the duty of the Governor to inform citizens and calm all of the irrational fears being thrown out there.

          Just an FYI, six states have well over half of the deaths and cases of Coronavirus in the USA. With 50 states in the union, I wonder how a “one size fits all” big Govt mandate fits that model?

          • Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/24/2020 - 02:48 pm.

            “one size fits all”

            You might note that today’s update indicates that Walz’s relaxation of restrictions departs from the the recommended federal “guidelines”, so the demonic Blue State lib’ruls are not following a one size fits all model. (While I acknowledge that the ignoramus Trump works daily to make whatever his “administration” is requesting as incoherent as possible!)

            That Walz can implement less restrictive conditions than the CDC urges, yet still earn your disapproval makes clear your objections come from a purely partisan perspective. Nothing Walz could do would satisfy you, short of totally accede to your (reckless and ill-informed) demands.

          • Submitted by Linda Maki on 04/24/2020 - 03:17 pm.

            Agree completely, Joe. No one wants to address the pink elephant in the room— it is those in long-term care that are dying at crazy rates. Many have DNR’s and cannot be brought into the hospital for the care they need. They die alone in the nursing homes. THAT is where the resources and the focus need to be. Not on the VERY few who get this virus and survive.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/24/2020 - 05:17 pm.

              By doing what exactly? You plan on asking the care staff to sequester with the residents, hermetically seal the facilities like some erstwhile biodome? The problem with the “protect the vulnerable” argument is that there isn’t any rational way to do that, and even of there were, folks like you and Mr. Smith would insist that someone else pay for it. What you fail to understand is that no one, NO ONE, believes that anyone arguing to “Liberate Minnesota” acts in good faith, what is understood is that theargument is nothing more than shorthand for the usual raft of conservative ideals, and serves no one but they who argues it, and those of exactly the same ideology. You have zero credibility, and expect everyone else to share in your distrust of all things government, when in fact, very few do.

      • Submitted by Gene Nelson on 04/24/2020 - 11:18 am.

        Do you realize Joe, that people of all ages are having issues with this virus. Yes, the elderly and those who have health issues are the most susceptible but you appear to be ignoring how many healthy individuals are suffering. Did you read about the Ironman competitor who barely survived? Have you read about other healthy individuals who got it?
        This is a nasty virus from which we have no immunity. We need to be careful.

        • Submitted by joe smith on 04/24/2020 - 12:01 pm.

          Gene, people get sick from flu and pneumonia every Dec-April, every year. Do we shut down the economy and United States? S Dakota didn’t shut down and I don’t see an epidemic there. The numbers are coming in showing most folks who have antibodies to COVID 19, indicating they had the disease (that is what the experts are saying, not sure about that), never had any symptoms. That shows this Virus passes through most folks, without underlying health issues, with little to no symptoms. New studies from Stanford is showing this now.
          This virus latches on to folks with compromised lungs, or obese and with poor immune systems, those folks need to be protected, not the healthy folks. That is the facts, nobody said some wouldn’t get sick. Shutting down the economy because some will have fever, chills and diarrhea but will not die for an entire country and world is plain stupid! Are you prepared to shut down again next fall when this or another flu Virus comes along?

          • Submitted by Gene Nelson on 04/24/2020 - 12:33 pm.

            Joe…one case in early January…today almost 900,000 infected with over 50,000 deaths. If it isn’t already, it’s will be the leading cause of death in just a few short months.

            • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/26/2020 - 08:39 pm.

              Wow! 5% death rate. I doubt that that will be the figure six months from now but it should be acted upon since we know it is true now.

          • Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/24/2020 - 12:41 pm.

            It may very well be that the virus has not (yet) penetrated into the essentially depopulated parts of rural America, Joe. Their day may be a-coming. In fact, that’s the most likely scenario. Best of luck to them, with their ideologically-based “government”. I would note the Sioux Falls hot-spot (the only city of sIze in SD) was isolated pretty quickly via a lockdown-type procedure.

            If you want to let Trump’s staunchest supporters get blindsided by this very deadly disease through your counsel of complacency, I guess that’s up to you and Conservative Central!

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/24/2020 - 06:58 pm.

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/24/strokes-coronavirus-young-patients/

            You’ll probably need to copy the link. Point being, we don’t even know what we don’t know, yet. It might be wise to refrain from spouting certainties at this point.

          • Submitted by Phil Gilman on 04/25/2020 - 07:37 am.

            And South Dakota is doing dramatically better than MN. Shut downs are so over rated and cause lot of damage. Abuse, suicide, depression, long term stress response leading to chronic disease….obesity, diabetes,heart disease, cancer. Not to mention economic devastation. The long term effect of lock down is way worse than a few bad virus cases. Time for people to start thinking beyond today and take blinders off.

        • Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/24/2020 - 12:32 pm.

          Joe’s facts are only helpful when one considers deaths, not overall health aspects. If one survives a bout with Covid, then whatstheproblem?

          Our conservative friends seem mum on the latest epidemiological news–the the New York antibodies study seems to indicate that Covid is (perhaps) “only” 8 times more deadly than the flu. I suppose Breitbart is blaring “how could the models have been so wrong!”, when earlier estimates had even higher rates of death by Covid.

          Also, too, I think we won’t be seeing the oft-deployed “there’s 60,000 annual deaths from flu!” factoid, as Covid will blow by that number by May 1, and will essentially have done it in a month!

          So now the rhetorical game is all about how society is supposed to structure some set-up whereby only the elderly in care facilities need to be isolated and have “80% of resources directed at them” (whatever that is supposed to mean). Yep, that’ll protect the at-home elderly (and those of all ages with underlying conditions) when we prematurely blare the “All Clear”…

          • Submitted by joe smith on 04/24/2020 - 07:07 pm.

            BK, the estimated numbers of people that have had the COVID 19 virus (most didn’t even know they’ve had it) is going up daily with more testing. There will be now way possible this virus is 8 times more deadly than the common flu. Wherever you got that statistic, you need to stop going there for information.
            First time in my life folks are pulling for a disease to be more deadly! Makes you wonder?

            • Submitted by ian wade on 04/25/2020 - 03:55 pm.

              Actually, what makes me wonder is how folks like you can brag about being “pro-life” while casually dismissing the lives of thousands of people. Not to mention the irony that you also were the same group that actively whined about “death panels” when the ACA was being debated.
              Are you seated comfortably?

  4. Submitted by Jennifer Pothen on 04/24/2020 - 12:15 pm.

    I’d like to know how you get back to work when your grade school children are home. How much of this workforce have children who aren’t old enough to distance learn without an adult having to be at home to care for them?

  5. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 04/24/2020 - 12:47 pm.

    Early January in USA…1 coronavirus case.
    April 18 – 663,250 cases, 30,300 dead.
    April 19 – 717,000 cases, 37,054 dead
    April 20 – 746,000 cases, 41,000 dead
    April 21 – 800,933 cases, 43,006 dead
    April 22 – 826,240 cases, 45,373 dead
    April 23 – 855,869 dead, 48,061 dead
    April 24 – 890,00- cases – 50,372 dead
    This is a horrifically dangerous and infectious disease of which we have no immunity

  6. Submitted by Orville H. Larson on 04/24/2020 - 12:54 pm.

    Hell, everyone who’s able to work, and who wants to go back to work, should. Emperor Walz the First must understand that we can’t become a nation of cowering Nervous Nellies.

    Also, for some necessary perspective, read “Sweden Is Right: The Economy Should Be Left Open” by Mike Whitney at The Unz Review:

    https://www.unz.com/mwhitney/sweden-is-right-the-economy-should-be-left-open/

    • Submitted by ian wade on 04/25/2020 - 03:47 pm.

      Here’s a pro tip for you, Orville. If you want credibility, don’t link to a site run by a guy who happens to be a white supremacist and Holocaust denier. If I want to wade through garbage like this, I’ll clean my cat’s litterbox.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 04/26/2020 - 11:40 pm.

      Let’s see now:

      Sweden 2194 deaths (about 10 million total population)
      Denmark 418 deaths (about 6 million total population)
      Norway 201 deaths (about 5 million total population)
      Finland 190 deaths (about 5 million total population)
      Iceland 10 deaths (about 364,000 total population, yes, less than Hennepin County)

      So Sweden has twice the population of Denmark, Norway, or Finland, but 5 times as many deaths as Denmark, 10 times as many as Norway or Finland.

      Gratn

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