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The daily coronavirus update: GOP pushes reopening as state officials warn, ‘All … indicators are going in the wrong direction’

The Minnesota Department of Health reported five more deaths, and 1,627 new COVID-19 cases, on Monday. 

COVID-19
COVID-19
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 October 19, 2020:

124,439 confirmed cases; 2,239 deaths 

Five more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Monday, for a total of 2,239. 

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Of the deaths announced Monday, one person was in their 90s, two were in their 80s, and two were in their 60s. Four of the five deaths were among residents of long-term care facilities. Of the 2,239 people killed by COVID-19 in Minnesota, 1,578 were residents of long-term care facilities.

In the eight years between the 2010-11 flu season and the 2017-18 flu season — a time period in which masks, social distancing and business restrictions were not in use — there were a total of 1,529 deaths in Minnesota associated with influenza

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Evan Frost/MPR/Pool
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MDH also said Monday there have been 124,439 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of positives is up 1,627 from Sunday’s count and is based on 22,171 new tests. The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is currently 5.8 percent. That is an increase from 4.9 percent the week prior. The state generally says a 5 percent rate or above is a concerning sign of disease spread. Even as the state continues to expand testing, there have been larger increases in new cases, health officials said Monday.

The current caseload and death toll combines Minnesotans with positive PCR tests and positive antigen tests approved under a Food and Drug emergency authorization use. MDH added antigen tests to case counts on Oct. 14.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday that 469 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 137 of which are in intensive care. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

Legislative Republicans say they will open state if elected

Republicans at the Minnesota Legislature pledged on Monday that if voters hand their lawmakers control of the state House and Senate in the Nov. 3 election they will take more steps to reopen businesses and schools that have been restricted by Gov. Tim Walz during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The GOP plan includes implementing more in-person learning at K-12 schools, resuming all school sports and allowing local districts to decide whether to have fans at games. It also includes lifting restrictions on how many people can worship at religious ceremonies, as well as ending broad public health rules on bars and restaurants.

In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the state has enough personal protective equipment, and hospital capacity is currently adequate. They criticized rules, such as limiting the number of people inside restaurants, as a wrong “one-size-fits-all” approach.

“We trust Minnesota families, schools, churches, and businesses to be responsible and live safely,” says the statement. “Instead of concentrating power in one person or at the state level, we will return it to Minnesotans and the local leaders they elected.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaking at an "Open Up MN" press conference on Monday. Behind him is state Sen. Scott Jensen.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaking at an "Open Up MN" press conference on Monday. Behind him is state Sen. Scott Jensen.
All 201 legislative seats are on the ballot this year. The House currently has a 75-59 Democratic majority while Republicans hold a 35-32 advantage in the Senate.

Malcolm told reporters that with the pandemic currently escalating in Minnesota, they would “not recommend further increasing gatherings of people.” Doing so would lead to hospitalizations and deaths, she said.

“All of these indicators are going in the wrong direction which to us does not indicate that it’s time to relax our cautions,” she said.

MDH still says it has no plans to dial back

As MDH cautions against relaxing the existing rules the state has in place, such as limiting indoor occupancy at restaurants to 50 percent of fire marshall capacity, the agency said it has no plans to implement new restrictions as the pandemic worsens.

Currently, the state is failing three out of five of its key ‘dial back’ metrics, which are meant to signal how bad the spread of COVID-19 is. 

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Malcolm said there is “no question” their level of concern is increasing, but she said transmission is so widespread that there are no specific public settings that the state would likely target to crack down on. Malcolm also said one issue is people are deciding to “let down our guard in more private settings,” rather than spreading and catching COVID-19 in public places.

Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann
Health officials are also worried about the economic damage of closing or limiting businesses and public gatherings.

“It’s not that shutting everything down couldn’t have an impact,” said Kris Ehresmann, the MDH infectious disease director. “But the unintended consequences of those types of things is really really great.”

Ehresmann urged individual responsibility. “If we would just all kind of come to a middle point about taking this seriously that would have a huge impact on making a difference and might not be as punitive for the economy.”

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MDH’s coronavirus website: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

MDH’s phone line for COVID-19 questions, Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m: 651-297-1304

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