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The daily coronavirus update: Minnesota unveils plan for safety in long-term care facilities

Minnesota announced 786 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 deaths from the disease.

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 7, 2020:

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9,365 confirmed cases; 23 deaths

Twenty-three more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday, for a total of 508.

Of the deaths announced Thursday, seven were people in their 90s, four people in their 80s, six in their 70s, two in their 60s, three in their 50s and one in their 40s. The person in their 40s had no so-far apparent underlying health conditions that would make them more susceptible to the virus, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

Seventeen were residents of Hennepin County, three Anoka County residents, one a Clay County resident, one a Ramsey County resident and one a Stearns County resident.

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

MDH also said Thursday there have been 9,365 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 786 from Wednesday’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.

Malcolm said Minnesota is still climbing up the curve of the virus, despite the return to somewhat-normalcy in parts of society.

The number of positives is expected to increase significantly as Minnesota begins to test more people under an initiative announced last week to test as many as 20,000 Minnesotans per day. 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.

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Since the start of the outbreak, 1,459 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 435 are currently in the hospital, 182 in intensive care. Of the 9,365 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 5,308 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are believed to have either recovered or have died.

A total of 97,421 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

A five-point plan for long-term care

On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz’s  administration announced a five-point plan it says will help both public health and long-term care facilities plan ahead better in the event of an outbreak.

While MDH has had a process for stepping in to assist facilities once they have cases,  the seriousness of disease in these facilities warrants a less reactive approach, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday.

Both the vulnerability of residents and the close quarters in which they live make COVID-19 apt to ravage long-term care facilities. While less than 1 percent of Minnesotans reside in long-term care facilities, they have seen 15 percent of Minnesota’s confirmed cases of the virus and 80 percent of its confirmed virus-related deaths.

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The five-point plan includes:

  • More testing for residents and workers, including active screening; facility-wide testing when a case has been confirmed at a long-term care site or if multiple people develop symptoms; speeding up development of action plans to deal with outbreaks if they arise; ensuring workers are trained on personal protective equipment use.
  • Provide testing support and troubleshooting, including developing health system strike teams that could do testing on-site quickly and follow-up.
  • Get facilities needed personal protective equipment, including maintaining enough protective equipment to restock facilities that have run out of supplies.
  • Ensure adequate staffing levels including possibly: using the COVID-19 fund to provide temporary staffing to facilities low on workers; activating the Minnesota National Guard to help with needs; using a database to fill shifts with health care workers.
  • Leverage partnerships, including with local public health and long-term care facilities to manage cases and support facilities.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, chairwoman of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee, said she is “pleased to finally see concrete plans from the administration for addressing these challenges,” in a statement. On Wednesday, she sent a letter asking the department to take action.

In Minnesota, one in five nursing homes have cases of COVID-19. Less than one in 10 assisted living facilities have cases, Malcolm said. Most facilities with cases have one or two, but some — such as one in New Hope — have many more.

Small retailers next to open?

Walz told reporters Thursday the next businesses he will allow to reopen are likely to be “small retailers across Main Streets.”

Walz said it wasn’t fair that someone could, say, buy socks on a trip to Walmart while another small retailer that could better limit foot traffic in their shop and sanitize a store might not be open right now under state guidance. Republican lawmakers have been pressuring Walz to allow small retail businesses to open their stores over the last several weeks. Last week, Walz allowed nonessential retail to provide curbside pickup and delivery services.

Walz calls for national strategy to reopen sports leagues

With Major League Baseball reportedly gearing up to begin its season in July, Walz said there’s “some potential” such plans could work, but he’d like to see a “national strategy” for directing sports leagues to reopen. The governor also downplayed the possibility of fans at games.

Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Tim Walz
Walz said COVID-19 cases and deaths might still be rising in some states in July, which would be a problem for those leagues. “I can’t imagine us playing Detroit if Michigan has 500,000 cases still raging and we’re up at 10,000 deaths across the Upper Midwest,” Walz said.

At the same time, Walz said sports are important for state morale, and urged leagues to keep working to find safe ways to play. Walz said he’d like to help kids play summer sports and attend camps if possible, too. “I think we have to lean as hard into returning these things that we find joy in so we can do the other hard stuff and protect us,” Walz said.

ESPN reported that some MLB teams suggested players should prepare for a season that could begin July 1. (The July 1 timeline was first floated publicly by none other than  Trevor Plouffe, a former Twins third baseman turned commentator.) No fans would be allowed in stadiums. The St. Paul Saints released a plan Wednesday to open its ballpark by using cashless payment, increased sanitation, socially distant seating, and taking other steps to lower the spread of COVID-19.

Guidance on graduation parties ahead

Walz said his administration is working to prepare guidance for holding graduation parties during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said small, socially distanced gatherings would be one of the first things allowed as stay-home restrictions ease.

That guidance could come this week or early next. Walz called graduation parties “rites of passage that are really important.”

“We’re working hard on this one,” Walz said. “I’m trying to turn over every stone that we can do.”

Walz: Don’t stray far from home for fishing opener

With the fishing opener set for this weekend, Walz reminded Minnesotans to be mindful of social distancing and asked them not to fish far from home this year.

Walz said that while the state isn’t blockading the borders to neighboring states, people should consider that the more people travel, the more the coronavirus spreads.

“Stay close to home, use common sense, fish in a new place,” he said.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

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