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

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:

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.

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.

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:

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

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 05/19/2020 - 08:43 am.

    So roughly 10% of the people tested so far (have to show COViD 19 symptoms to be tested) have Coronavirus. 80% of the 2,128 people hospitalized from COViD 19 have underlying health issues in Minnesota, 84% of the people who die from COViD 19 are long term care patients. 98% of deaths are people with underlying health issues.
    Do the math yourself, healthy people in Minnesota have a “snow balls chance in hell” of being hospitalized or dying from this virus. Science Magazine has an article about Robert Koch Institute (German’s Govt public Health Agency) correcting New England Journal of Medicine original story of asymptotic people spreading COViD 19, interesting read. Fauci has referred to the NEJM article multiple times to spread the story that asymptotic people can spread the disease. Look for yourself and decide if that is science you want to stay in your basement for?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/19/2020 - 01:48 pm.

      The death panel has spoken again. Old people don’t matter. Unhealthy people don’t matter.

      You don’t have to stay in your basement. Just wear a mask. Keep your distance from other people. Its not all or nothing.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 05/19/2020 - 02:17 pm.

      I’m actually on my deck, not in my basement. Tell me, Joe. Why are Republican governors firing so many analysts that refuse to alter their numbers to make Covid death and infection rates seem lower?

    • Submitted by Jon Ruff on 05/20/2020 - 01:47 pm. offers free access to it’s COVID information; a lot of good reading. I couldn’t find the article you referenced. Would you please offer the title.

    • Submitted by BK Anderson on 05/20/2020 - 03:36 pm.

      Actually the article quotes Ehresmann as saying that 76% (not 80%) of those hospitalized in MN had underlying health conditions. And “healthy people” having about a one in four chance of being hospitalized by Covid hardly strikes me as “having a snow ball’s chance in hell of being hospitalized”. Especially when one contemplates the incredible percent of those hospitalized who have to go into ICU.

      In short, just more bending of the data and irresponsible rhetorical excess by you to suit your flawed narrative. Just as the Trumpite governors in FL and GA are doing with their manipulation of the Covid data.

      But then, lying is the essence of the Trump movement…

      • Submitted by BK Anderson on 05/21/2020 - 08:16 am.

        Whoops, got that wrong, and need to be fair to Joe.

        About 3.3 % of all Minnesotans who have tested positive and have had to be hospitalized are “healthy people”. About 1 in 4 of the most serious Covid cases in MN involve “healthy people” who must be hospitalized, with a huge percent of those having to go into ICU. Neither number strikes me as equating to a “snowball’s chance in hell” regarding chances of hospitalization, but YMMV…

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/19/2020 - 10:57 am.

    Joe Smith emphasizes “healthy people.” The millions of us Americans who are currently “healthy.”

    He needs to be aware of a kind of sick joke that once circulated among health care professionals in hospitals and clinics, about so-called “healthy ” people: “We can define ‘a healthy person’ as someone who hasn’t been completely worked up yet.”

    Worked up means: had all the tests and checks we have available. In other words, there are very few really “healthy” people with no pre-existing conditions.

    Add to that, the accepted probability that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of asymptomatic covid-19-infected people in the U.S. who think of themselves, blithely, as “healthy,” but who are wandering among all of us without bothering to wear masks, spreading their droplets.

    It’s so easy to wear a mask when you’re outside your home. Why would you NOT try to protect the vulnerable people around you?

    It’s like asking: Why would you NOT use disinfectants in your home, or NOT wash your hands regularly? Do you NOT understand what epidemics and their worse cousins, pandemics, ARE?

    I find it very hard to be sympathetic to those folks who have a hard time being part of any community.

    Out there, individual by individual, alone. Screaming “liberty”!

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/19/2020 - 11:33 am.

    The Department of Health statistics here continue to be disingenuous about how many people released from ICU solation are “recovered” and how many have died.

    According to a fine Star Tribune article today by Jeremy Olson, of those hospitalized with Covid-19, 85% are released because they recovered from the disease. A full 15%, however, were “released” because they died.

    Finally, a report of that truth, previously hidden in a “total no longer isolated.”

    Plus another, puzzling truth, for those of us who have agonized over the apparent lack of ventilators: 53% of those ICU patients who were intubated with ventilators died anyway. (I’ve read that those who lived through intubation have long-term, if not permanent, damage to their overall health and quality of life.)

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