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The daily coronavirus update: 27 more deaths; Walz to allow elective medical procedures to resume

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported another 617 confirmed cases of COVID-19, for a total of 7,851 in the state.

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 May 5, 2020:

7,851 confirmed cases; 455 deaths 

Another 27 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, state health officials said Tuesday, bringing total deaths from the pandemic to 455.

Nineteen of the people who died were residents of Hennepin County, while three lived in Anoka County and three in Ramsey County. One resident of Clay County died, as did another in Sherburne County.

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Four of the people who died were in their 90s, 11 were in their 80s, six were in their 70s, five were in their 60s and one person was in their 40s.

Twenty-three of the 27 deaths reported Tuesday were among residents of long-term care facilities. 

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

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported another 617 confirmed cases of COVID-19, for a total of 7,851 in the state. Because Minnesota is only now developing the capacity to test everybody with symptoms, the number of confirmed cases of the virus is assumed to be significantly higher. 

The cases announced Tuesday are the highest one-day count yet, and the number of positives is expected to increase significantly as Minnesota begins to test more people (an initiative announced last month to test as many as 20,000 Minnesotans per day). At the time, 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.

Of the 7,851 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 4,614 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are considered to have recovered or have died. A total of 88,009 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

COVID-19 cases in ICU rise, but state has adequate capacity 

Since the start of the outbreak, 1,350 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 434 are currently in the hospital, 182 in intensive care. The state has experienced a steady uptick in the need for ICU beds over the last week, though officials say the state still has hundreds of additional ICU beds ready now and another 1,300 beds they could stand up within 72 hours to handle any surge in patients.

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Jan Malcolm, MDH commissioner, said the increase in ICU cases is “very moderate for where we are in the progression of the pandemic” and within ranges the state projected and has planned for. “This is not the steepest part of the curve,” she said.

Cases in five counties with outbreaks at meatpacking facilities — Kandiyohi, Nobles, Stearns, Cottonwood and Martin — continue to spike and now represent a quarter of cumulative cases in the state, Malcolm said. But while the counties are more rural, Malcolm said hospital capacity is holding up well and if it does get constrained there’s a “backup system” to help people find care elsewhere.

Bad news budget

For weeks, lawmakers have been bracing for an expected budget deficit because of the hit COVID-19 is taking on Minnesota’s economy and the state’s tax collections. Today, those fears were realized when the Minnesota Management and Budget office projected a $2.4 billion deficit in the current two-year biennium, a swing of nearly $4 billion compared to a February forecast. At the time the state expected a $1.5 billion surplus. Last year, the Legislature passed a $48.3 billion two-year budget.

Walz to allow elective medical procedures

Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order Tuesday that allows many elective medical procedures to resume. The governor had suspended them earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to preserve personal protective equipment for health care workers serving coronavirus patients.

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Hospitals and clinics that want to begin performing those procedures must come up with a plan to reserve enough PPE and ventilators to handle COVID-19 patients. They also must screen and test staff and patients for the disease and develop practices to protect workers and patients from catching COVID-19 during the procedure.

Veterinarians and dentists can also open to perform non-essential procedures if they follow the same rules and consult with health officials to ensure they’re not interrupting PPE supplies needed by hospitals. Walz’s order says each facility must develop criteria to determine which procedures they should perform, based on guidance from health officials, that prioritizes “cases that pose a high risk to the patient if the procedure is delayed.”

Walz said frontline health care workers are “nervous” about the decision because they fear it could leave them with inadequate PPE. But Walz said the state has built a steady enough supply to give hospitals and clinics leeway in providing more noncritical care.

Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order Tuesday that allows many elective medical procedures to resume.
Glenn Stubbe/Star Tribune/Pool
Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order Tuesday that allows many elective medical procedures to resume.
The governor said some treatments can head off larger health problems for people in the future and provide a better quality of life in the meantime. Some examples of elective procedures include treating chronic pain or slowing the progression of diseases.

The executive order was cheered by the Minnesota Hospital Association, which has warned of $2.9 billion in revenue loss in the coming months from pausing elective procedures and handling new costs from the pandemic. President Rahul Koranne said in a statement that the organization’s top priority “remains having the spaces, staff and supplies necessary in our hospitals and health systems to support our workforce and continue to provide high-quality care to all of our patients.

The order was also supported by Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature, who have been pushing the governor to allow more elective procedures for weeks

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said in a statement that the order “offers a ray of light to the people who have been waiting for necessary medical care.” Hospital staff furloughs left the health care system “vulnerable,” Benson said, and while two weeks of limiting procedures was necessary once restrictions continued it caused “immense damage. Benson chairs the Senate’s Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

“I am pleased that Minnesotans can finally look forward to getting their physical pain and worry relieved, and health care professionals can return to their vocations,” she said.

Jamie Gulley, president of the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota union, which represents more than 35,000 workers at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and in home care settings, said Monday, before Walz’s announcement, that nursing home workers are currently using “rain ponchos and paper masks” because there’s a lack of PPE. 

“Our union has thousands of members furloughed right now, and we want things to get back to normal when we can, but doing so unsafely just to appease those in the health care industry who would put profits first is not the way to move forward,” Gulley said. “As a leader of the state’s largest health care workers’ union, I implore state leaders to focus on the crisis of lack of PPE facing nursing homes and long term care facilities (and hospital and home care workers) before we even consider these demands from the health care industry to restart elective surgeries.”

Walz responds to stay-at-home scofflaws

According to a report by the Pioneer Press, some Minnesota businesses, including a St. Paul barbershop, a Plainview gym and Cambridge furniture store, have opened in defiance of Walz’s stay-at-home order.

Asked what he made of that Tuesday, Walz said he understands people are facing economic pressure and that businesses may have social distancing plans that will meet or exceed whatever the state lays out when it allows them to open, but an orderly plan for going back to business is necessary.

Making light of social distancing requirements might be tempting for those who are young and healthy, but the risk becomes real when “somebody’s mother, somebody’s father, somebody’s grandparent is put in the position when we overflow the emergency rooms,” Walz said.

He says it isn’t the state’s intention or desire to use police resources to enforce the stay-at-home order (though some have been charged). He expects companies that violate the order will face social ramifications, such as negative Yelp reviews.

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