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The daily coronavirus update: Minnesota surpasses 10,000 confirmed cases; state bans large, in-person graduation ceremonies

The Minnesota Department of Health also announced Friday another 26 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 534.

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 8, 2020:

10,088 confirmed cases; 534 deaths 

Another 26 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, state health officials said Friday, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 534.

Twenty of the people whose deaths were reported Friday lived in Hennepin County, while three lived in Ramsey County and one person lived in Benton, St. Louis and Olmsted counties.

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Ten of those who died were in their 90s, nine were in their 80s, five were in their 70s, and two were in their 60s. Of the 26 deaths, 25 were among residents of long-term care facilities. 

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News/Pool
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests.

The Minnesota Department of Health also said Friday there have been 10,088 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 723 from Thursday’s count. 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 number of positives is expected to increase significantly as Minnesota begins to test more people under an initiative announced two weeks ago to test as many as 20,000 Minnesotans per day. 

On Friday, MDH reported that a total of 101,270 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota so far, 3,849 more than reported Thursday. MDH commissioner Jan Malcolm said one lab had only reported positive tests Friday, however, so the true number of administered tests is likely higher.

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Since the start of the outbreak, 1,549 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 473 are currently in the hospital, 198 in intensive care. Of the 10,088 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 5,697 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are believed to have recovered or have died.

More information on cases can be found here.

State says no to outdoor graduation ceremonies

State officials said Friday that Minnesota high schools and colleges can’t hold large, in-person graduation ceremonies, including those held outdoors in stadiums or on football fields.

In a new guidance memo, the state said many schools have considered outdoor events. But even when space between attendees is planned for, the ceremonies could still result in contact between people. “These gatherings are not considered safe at any size and will not be permitted,” the guidance says.

While car parades or parking lot ceremonies are allowed, the state’s guidance says they are not as safe as virtual events in which people stay home. They could also encourage people in high-risk groups to leave their houses because otherwise they would feel left out. A drive-in ceremony may be inaccessible to families without a car.

For schools that do host car-based events, the state says no carpooling, food, drinks or bathrooms are allowed. If people roll down car windows, the cars should be spaced six feet apart.

Some Republicans pushed back against the guidance. State Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said in a written statement the state was taking “unilateral action with no warning and no flexibility for schools that are able to hold their ceremonies safely.”

“This one-size-hurts-all approach completely ignores the thoughtful deliberations and plans already in place with local school leaders,” Erickson said.

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Inequities persist in impact of COVID-19 

As COVID-19 spreads through Minnesota, it’s having an unequal impact on people of color. Malcolm said 6.6 percent of Minnesotans are black, but more than 19 percent of people hospitalized in the state from COVID-19 are black. About 5.5 percent of Minnesotans are Hispanic, though 9 percent of those hospitalized are Hispanic. 

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Office of the Governor
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Malcolm told reporters that people of color and women are more likely to be in frontline jobs most at risk, such as long-term care employees and nurses.

The economic fallout of coronavirus has also had a disproportionate impact on people of color and indigenous communities. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said 31 percent of black Minnesotans and 29.8 percent of American Indians in the labor force have applied for unemployment insurance benefits.

Flanagan noted the state is keeping this data in mind as it responds to the pandemic and prepares for a recovery effort once the disease has subsided. 

State to receive federal shipment of Remdesivir

The federal government is sending a shipment of a drug to Minnesota that research has shown to shorten hospital stays of people with severe cases of COVID-19.

Malcolm told reporters the manufacturer Gilead had donated some of its drug Remdesivir to the federal government, which is distributing it to the states. Malcolm said the first shipment would be “limited,” but that she hopes more will follow. The state is still working out how to hand out the drug around the state to “maximize the number of lives we can impact.”

State in negotiations to buy temporary storage for human remains

Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said the state is in negotiations to buy a warehouse facility for the temporary storage of human remains associated with both the increase of deaths due to COVID-19 and the slowdown in burials due to social distancing.

Director Joe Kelly
Director Joe Kelly
The $6.9 million expense will come out of the state COVID-19 fund.

Kelly said the need for the facility became apparent in talks with funeral homes, medical examiners, hospitals, public health and local emergency management officials, as well as in watching what happened in other locations. In New York, refrigerated trailers were used to store bodies. 

“The movement through the system that we normally use to take care of our deceased and properly lay them to rest — the movement through that system has slowed dramatically, one because of increased volume, second because with social distance guidelines in place it is often difficult to meet the final wishes of our loved ones, to have family gathered around as they’re laid to rest and observe their traditions,” Kelly said. 

Update on modeling expected next week

Malcolm told reporters that an update to the COVID-19 model built by the MDH and the University of Minnesota will be available next week. The public was last updated on the model in the second week of April.

Malcolm had previously said she expected to see the updated model herself by the end of this week, but has yet to see it due to additional work being done on it.

She said an updated model would be available — with more information to help the public understand how it works — no later than the middle of next week.

Walz asks to extend, replenish COVID-19 fund

Walz on Friday asked state lawmakers to both extend the life of and replenish a special fund created in March to meet emergency needs to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz
The fund was created March 26, when the Legislature put $200 million into the COVID-19 Minnesota Fund and created a 10-member commission of senior lawmakers to approve expenditures. It has been tapped to pay for everything from the warehouse to be used as an emergency morgue to the testing program put together by the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.

But the fund expires on Monday. And if the $65 million remaining is not requested by then, the money reverts to the state general fund. Most of the expenditures are reimbursable either by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or from the $1.87 billion sent to Minnesota under the federal CARES Act.

There is a bill in the House to extend the life of the commission to June 30. “Minnesota has made progress, but this is a winter, not a blizzard,” Walz said. “The House of Representatives took a good first step today by extending the expiration date, but the need for more funding remains. I look forward to working with the Legislature to extend the fund until June 30, 2021 and replenish the fund so Minnesotans can continue to get the resources they need to weather this pandemic.”

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