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The daily coronavirus update: Health Department recommends masks outdoors; state hiring contact tracers

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday that nine more Minnesotans had died of COVID-19 and there were 704 more cases of the disease.

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

For the foreseeable future, MinnPost will be providing daily updates on coronavirus in Minnesota, published following the press phone call with members of the Walz administration each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from May 18, 2020:

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16,372 confirmed cases; 731 deaths

Nine more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Sunday, for a total of 731.

Of the deaths announced Monday were residents of: Hennepin County (5), Anoka County (2), Ramsey County (1) and Washington County (1).

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
Three of the people whose deaths were announced were in their 90s, three were in their 80s, two were in their 70s and one was in their 50s. Eight of the nine were residents of long-term care.

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

MDH also said Monday there have been 16,372 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 704 from Sunday’s count. Because Minnesota is only now developing the capacity to test everybody with symptoms, the number of actual cases of the disease is assumed to be significantly higher.

Since the start of the outbreak, 2,128 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 488 are currently in the hospital, 229 in intensive care. Of the 16,372 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 10,764 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are believed to have recovered.

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said that so far in Minnesota, 76 percent of people who have been hospitalized have had known underlying health conditions.

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A total of 156,606 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

With stay-at-home expired, will cases spike?

Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order requiring Minnesotans to stay home except for limited excursions expired Monday. Now, more businesses are allowed to open, with social distancing plans in place.

How long will it take for the state to know whether loosened restrictions and Minnesotans’ behavior causes a spike in cases?

“Probably 21 days,” Ehresmann said. Between an incubation period of zero to 14 days and how long it may take people to get tested after they develop symptoms, any revelations on the effects of the lifting of stay-at-home could take a while to materialize.

Wear face masks — even outside

MDH officials said it’s a good idea to wear a mask outside your home — even outside, even when social distancing.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm acknowledged differing opinions about whether outdoor masking is as important as indoors, where there’s less airflow. She said it’s still a good idea — even when social distancing, even outdoors, as an additional precaution.

Research has found that even talking can be a risk of transmission, and while that risk is more concentrated indoors, wearing a mask outside can help reduce it.

“If you are going out jogging and it’s difficult for you to jog with a mask on or something like that … and you’re moving in such a manner where you’re not probably going to encounter people,” Ehresmann said she can understand why people would decide not to wear masks in that setting.

But masks may help protect everyone in settings like a backyard gathering — even if gatherers are 6 feet apart, she said.

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State still building contact tracing staff

Minnesota now has about 400 staffers who track those who are infected with COVID-19 or who may have been infected and advise them on how to isolate to minimize the risk of infecting others, MDH told reporters. That’s up from about 200 during early May.

Health officials say the contact tracing efforts are crucial to snuffing out disease hot spots and curtailing COVID-19 spread. The state says investigators are particularly important now that Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-home order has expired and people will be in public more.

Malcolm, the MDH commissioner, said the agency hopes to have 1,400 total case investigators and contact tracers by June 1. Ehresmann said MDH is training staff and expects to add about 100 people this week.

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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