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The daily coronavirus update: Some hospitals nearing ICU capacity; health plans extend copay waiver

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 18 more deaths from COVID-19 and 645 new cases of 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 with members of the Walz administration each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from May 26, 2020:

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21,960 confirmed cases; 899 deaths

Eighteen more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday, for a total of 899.

Of the deaths announced Tuesday were: one person over age 100, seven in their nineties, five in their eighties, one in their seventies, three in their sixties and one in their forties.

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

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MDH also said Tuesday there have been 21,960 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 645 from Monday’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.

One of the metrics MDH is watching to keep an eye on the virus’ spread in the state is how long it takes for the number of cases to double. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Tuesday that if cases begin to double every seven days or less, that would be concerning. Cases are currently doubling every 16 days, which is longer than it had been previously.

Since the start of the outbreak, 2,709 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 570 are currently in the hospital, 258 in intensive care. Of the 29,160 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 15,523 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are believed to have recovered.

A total of 209,898 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota, up 5,839 from Monday.

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More information on cases can be found here.

ICU cases jump

Between Sunday and Monday, Minnesota saw an unprecedented jump in COVID-19 cases in intensive care, with 41 new patients.

MDH has heard of some hospitals nearing or reaching capacity as of the end of last week and expects some to begin setting up surge capacity. A few have staffing concerns, said Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann, while other parts of the state are less full.

As of May 25, 87 percent of ICU beds in the Twin Cities metro area were in use — a level not unexpected, Ehresmann said, adding that during flu season, it’s not uncommon for 95 percent of ICU beds to be full. Still, she said, the department is watching numbers closely and remains in close contact with hospitals.

Minneapolis Mayor Frey directs city staff to expedite outdoor dining requests

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed an executive order Tuesday directing city staff to expedite requests from restaurants to expand outdoor dining. The order responds to the state decision to allow restaurants to reopen but with outdoor seating only.

The order waives all fees for applications and directs staff to move quickly for applications to set up tables in “all feasible areas surrounding the business premises.” It also directs staff to expedite to allow the temporary reduction in the number of required parking spaces so as to allow parking areas to be converted to dining. And it orders staff to allow use of sidewalks as long as tables and chairs don’t prevent a sidewalk from meeting requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The same order allows temporary expansion of outdoor areas by retailers and stays in effect until it is rescinded.

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Asked Tuesday whether she’d feel comfortable dining outdoors on June 1 when restrictions on the activity lift, Malcolm had this to say: “Yes, I absolutely will be comfortable doing that, especially … if the distancing is clearly right and the maximum capacity is manageable and folks are wearing masks and my companions are wearing masks, then yes I would.” She said she would be sure to ask what procedures the restaurant is following.

Health plans extend copay waiver

Nearly all Minnesota health plans have agreed to extend their agreement to waive copays for COVID-19 hospitalizations from June 1 to September 30, MDH announced Tuesday.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

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