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The daily coronavirus update: 4 more deaths; unemployment add-on could be ready next week

The Minnesota Department of Health also announced it would increase scrutiny of bars’ and restaurants’ adherence to COVID-19 safety regulations after a slew of complaints.

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

MinnPost provides updates on coronavirus in Minnesota Sunday through Friday. The information is published following a press phone call with members of the Walz administration or after the release of daily COVID-19 figures by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Here are the latest updates from August 28:

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73,240 confirmed cases; 1,810 deaths

Four more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 1,810.

Of the people whose deaths were announced Friday, three were in their 80s and one was in their 70s. Two of the 4 deaths announced Friday were among residents of long-term care facilities. Of the 1,810 COVID-19 deaths reported in Minnesota, 1,333 have been among residents of long-term care.

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

MDH also said Friday there have been 73,240 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of confirmed cases is up 850 from Thursday’s count and is based on 16,319 new tests. You can find the seven-day positive case average here.

If you read Thursday’s coronavirus update, you may remember that the case count was high because MDH added in tests from a provider that neglected to report on time.

Data fluke notwithstanding, officials are worried about recently increased case counts.

Many cases reported recently come from social gatherings — a big wedding, big funerals, off-campus house parties and the like. The number of cases associated with Sturgis attendees is now at 46, and some secondary infections have been reported, some related to a wedding. Two Sturgis cases have been hospitalized, including one in the ICU.

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Since the start of the outbreak, 6,357 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 301 are currently in the hospital, 137 in intensive care. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

Of the 73,240 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 65,204 are believed to have recovered.

More information on cases can be found here.

Minnesota signs up for $300 a week unemployment add-on

Minnesota has signed up for a FEMA-administered program that will bring an extra $300 a week to people on unemployment.

The $300 per week payments will be retroactive to Aug. 1. The CARES’ Act supplemental benefits program, which provided an extra $600 per week, expired at the end of July.

The Star Tribune reports Minnesotans on unemployment could start seeing the extra payments by the end of next week or the following week, and DEED estimates the funds could be available for between five and eight weeks.

As we reported yesterday, the number of people on unemployment has declined faster than at any time since the pandemic in recent weeks, but is still very high.

51 Minnesota colleges with COVID cases in last week

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As college students go back to campus, coronavirus cases at colleges and universities are on the rise.

MDH said there were 254 COVID-19 cases among people associated with colleges or universities in Minnesota the week of Aug. 17, when students at some schools went back to campus.

Of those cases, 206 were students, 39 were staff. Thirty were living on campus.

Of 90 who were on campus while infectious, 62 were students and 24 were staff.

Fifty-one colleges in Minnesota had at least one reported case of COVID-19 in the last week, and seven schools had five or more cases.

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann reiterated the importance of limiting spread; With nearly 200 colleges and universities in the state of Minnesota, there’s a lot of potential new cases, she said.

MDH not changing testing guidance

This week, the CDC alarmed many public health officials by changing its testing guidelines and saying that asymptomatic contacts of COVID-19 cases no longer need be tested.

Ehresmann said the state is not changing its guidelines. She said testing close contacts of COVID-19 cases, even if they are asymptomatic, is critical for catching cases earlier.

“Every case was once a contact,” Ehresmann said.

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She also reminded Minnesotans that if they are contacts of known COVID-19 cases they should quarantine for 14 days — even if they test negative. Because the incubation period for the novel coronavirus is 14 days, someone could test negative on day seven and still develop an infection inside that 14-day window.

Ehresmann acknowledged that 14-day quarantines can be a big burden on Minnesotans and their families, but said it is critical that residents follow guidance in order to slow the spread and keep places like schools open and communities safe.

Increased safety checks on bars and restaurants

Public health and safety officials will increase checks on bars and restaurants starting Friday to ensure they are following executive orders on safe operation during COVID-19, Ehresmanns said.

State agencies have received complaints from both customers and owners and operators of bars and restaurants about noncompliance with executive orders.

Ehresmann said most establishments are following guidelines, but it’s hard for them to compete or explain to customers why they are following the guidelines when other establishments aren’t. When bars and restaurants don’t follow the guidelines, it has resulted in COVID-19 outbreaks.

Walz addressed the crackdown in a press conference Friday afternoon.

“Some of these businesses, and it’s a small number of them, if they choose not to follow the best health guidance, they put all of the businesses at risk, they put all of our health at risk,” Walz said.

He said that while the state is hovering at a positivity rate between 4.8 percent and 5 percent, “We need to keep the lid on this.”

In this environment, Walz said he had the choice to either tighten restrictions on bars’ and restaurants’ levels of openness or push for better adherence to health requirements.

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