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The daily coronavirus update: largest one-day spike in deaths so far; MDH says other states not accurately counting deaths

The Minnesota Department of Health also said Wednesday there have been 8,579 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 728 from Tuesday’s count.

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 conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) with Gov. Tim Walz and administration officials each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from May 6, 2020:

8,579 confirmed cases; 485 deaths

Thirty more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday, for a total of 485. The increase reported Wednesday represents a new daily record. The previous highest number of deaths reported in a single day was 28 on April 26 and May 1.

Of the deaths announced Wednesday were seven people in their 90s, 15 people in their 80s, six people in their 70s, one person in their 60s and one person in their 50s. Twenty-four of the 30 were residents of long-term care facilities. 

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Twenty-two of the people who died were Hennepin County residents, two were Anoka residents, two were Ramsey County residents, and there was one death each in Mahnomen, Nobles, Stearns and Dakota counties.

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

MDH also said Wednesday there have been 8,579 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 728 from Tuesday’s count. Because Minnesota is only now developing the capacity to test everybody with symptoms, the number of cases of the virus is assumed to be significantly higher. 

The number of confirmed cases is expected to increase significantly as Minnesota begins to test more people. Late last month, 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, 1,405 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 443 are currently in the hospital, 180 in intensive care. Of the 8,579 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 5,005 no longer need to be isolated because they have either recovered from COVID-19 or died.

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A total of 93,232 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota. A spike in the number of tests reported Wednesday reflects a data glitch that includes about 2,000 tests that would normally have been reported Tuesday.

More information on cases can be found here.

Health Department says more contact tracers needed

Last month, Minnesota Department of Health officials said the state would need between 400 and 500 contact tracers to effectively identify and isolate people who might have been exposed to COVID-19.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News/Pool
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
On a Wednesday hearing for a House bill that would fund a contact tracing program, Assistant Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Margaret Kelly put the number of needed tracers as high as 4,200. Why the discrepancy? 

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said better understanding of the role of asymptomatic spread is one driver; broadening testing to include asymptomatic cases would increase the number of positives and, in turn, the number of tracers needed.

Also informing that estimate, Malcolm said, is employers’ interest in testing and surveillance, plus outbreaks in food processing facilities, long-term care homes and other states’ experiences. 

When the outbreak started, MDH had 20 people doing that work; now there are more than 200.

MDH accuses others of undercounting COVID-19 deaths

Minnesotans are dying of COVID-19 at a higher rate than neighboring states, according to analysis from Minnesota Public Radio. While some in the GOP have raised concerns about Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 response, MDH officials on Wednesday accused other states in the region of not as accurately counting deaths.

Kris Ehresmann, MDH infectious disease director, said Minnesota has placed a heavier emphasis on testing people in long-term care settings, who are often elderly and at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than younger and healthier people. Minnesota is then more likely to accurately identify when people die from coronavirus compared to states that test fewer people in long-term care and may not be able to confirm an older person died of COVID-19 rather than the flu or a similar illness. 

“I do think that because we are focusing on our most vulnerable populations we aren’t missing as many deaths as could be the case in other parts of the country,” Ehresmann said.

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While Minnesota’s death rate trailed Iowa and Wisconsin for much of March and April, it has spiked over the last several weeks. MPR reports roughly 80 deaths per million residents in Minnesota, compared to more than 60 deaths in Iowa, the second-highest state. South Dakota has about 25 deaths per million residents.

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
Roughly 80 percent of the 485 people who have died in Minnesota were residents of long-term care. Twenty-four of the 30 deaths announced Thursday were residents of long-term care.

The state’s handling of COVID-19 among the eldery has come under fire lately. Republican Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, sent a letter to MDH on Wednesday asking the agency to take new measures to protect COVID-19 patients in long-term care, including more involvement of the National Guard to help the facilities.

“In Florida, where residents of long-term care facilities account for only 30 percent of the state’s total COVID-19 fatalities, the state government acted early to implement clear guidance for facilities and deployed the National Guard to assist with facility cleaning, staffing, and testing,” Housley wrote.

The state has worked to provide nursing homes and other long-term facilities with staffing help and guidance on infection control. But Malcolm said the state should announce more initiatives in the next couple of days to curb the spread of COVID-19 in such settings.

Well Child appointments 

Ehresmann said Wednesday that despite unusual circumstances, kids should be going into health care providers for Well Child visits, standard childhood check-ups that are important for both health screening and vaccinations. “I just want to make sure we’re reminding parents even as you’re dealing with this new normal it’s really important that you reach out to your health care provider and make sure that your child is continuing to get their Well Child visits and keep up-to-date with their necessary vaccinations,” she said. 

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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