Minn. sets 1-day highs for tests, new cases

Published 8:40 pm Friday, May 1, 2020

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COVID-19 deaths in state reach 371

Minnesota’s COVID-19 toll kept on its grim march Friday as the Health Department reported 371 Minnesotans have died from the disease, 28 more than Thursday; 369 remain hospitalized with 118 in intensive care. Total cases since the pandemic began leaped again by nearly 600, to 5,730, as testing accelerated.

The big jumps in cases discovered the past few days, driven by the testing increase, pushed down the percentage of people who’ve recovered from the disease since the pandemic began to around 40 percent. Prior to this week, recoveries had been running about half of total cases.

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Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said federal officials have come through with supplies of nasal swabs crucial to the state’s testing ramp-up, which will help give Minnesota access to a total of 190,000 swabs during May.


Stay-home order extended for two more weeks

The latest numbers come a day after Gov. Tim Walz extended his stay-at-home order, allowing some additional retail store operations but keeping bars and restaurants takeout-only until May 18.

Retailers and other businesses will be able to offer curbside pickup of purchases starting Monday, putting up to 30,000 Minnesotans back on the job, the governor’s office said. Dog groomers can work, too, if pets are picked up and dropped off curbside.

Other customer-focused businesses, however, will likely remain disappointed. For example, salons and barbershops can sell products for curbside pickup but still can’t provide haircuts or other in-shop services.

“Even as we reopen it’s not going to be the same,” Walz said Thursday, but “there is every reason to be positive that Minnesota is going the right way.”

Earlier this week, Walz allowed some factory and office workers who don’t have customer-facing jobs back into their work spaces, with safeguards. On Wednesday, he expressed hope that smaller Main Street business could soon reopen with social distancing and other hygiene measures in place.

The governor, though, has made clear that places that depend on public crowds, including bars, eateries and big sporting events, would be among the last to return to normal business operations.

As restrictions relax and testing ramps up, health leaders said Minnesotans should expect to see the COVID-19 outbreak widen, but they expressed confidence that Minnesota’s health care system was prepared to deal with an expected surge of cases and hospitalizations.

A new effort between the state, Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota to dramatically ramp-up testing in Minnesota and quickly identify and isolate COVID-19 cases appears to be paying off.

The state on Thursday reported 3,279 completed daily tests from the prior day — the first time daily testing topped 3,000. On Friday, the state topped 4,000 tests for the first time, reporting 4,124 completed.

Walz said the state should be testing 5,000 people daily as part of the plan to reopen the economy.

He urged people to wear masks outside and stay vigilant as the virus continues to spread.


SW Minnesota outbreak, meat supply concerns widen

As testing accelerates, more cases are discovered. That’s especially true in southwestern Minnesota, where an outbreak centered in Nobles County around the massive JBS pork plant in Worthington continues to mushroom.

Confirmed cases in the county jumped from one on April 13 to 866 on Friday. It’s the largest outbreak in Minnesota outside the Twin Cities and the largest by far relative to the county’s population.

Beyond the ill and unemployed workers, the cascading effects of the shutdown of JBS and of the massive Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., are also hitting pork producers hard. With those plants down, farmers have few places to sell the animals and so are being forced to destroy them.

At a Wednesday press conference, Minnesota DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said state officials together with JBS executives and union leaders would be working on a plan that would allow the plant to reopen while keeping workers safe and tested as they enter.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases jump a week after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus.

A week ago, Kandiyohi County, where the Willmar plant is located, had confirmed three COVID-19 cases. On Friday, the Health Department reported 135 people in the county have now tested positive.

Stearns County in central Minnesota is also reporting a big jump in coronavirus cases tied to two meatpacking plants.

The county started the week with 55 positive cases of COVID-19. On Friday, the number had mushroomed to 435 as testing intensified.

‘No answer’ for inequities

Fielding questions Thursday about his new orders, Walz acknowledged that the prohibitions are falling harder on Minnesotans who’ve historically been disadvantaged.

Asked about the differences between letting golf courses open while closing public park games and activities, Walz said they’ve been using data to judge what activities are safe and can allow for social distancing, but admitted, “I don’t have a good answer for that.”

While state officials could reconcile golf and social distancing, “we weren’t able to answer that with pickup basketball games,” he said. The stay-home prohibitions “are falling heavily on communities of color and socially disadvantaged communities. … I don’t have an answer.”Developments from around the state.

Pandemic could last two years, U scientists say

The COVID-19 outbreak will likely last 18 to 24 months, according to new report by University of Minnesota researchers.

COVID-19 appears to spread more easily than flu because of a longer incubation period and more spread among people who have no symptoms, the U’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy writes.

With only an estimated 5 to 15 percent of the U.S. population infected at this point, the country should expect more waves of illness, and it likely won’t end until 60 to 70 percent of the population is immune, the scientists said.