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Latest on COVID-19 in Minnesota: 60 confirmed cases, hospitals prepare, restaurants close

Mar 17, 2020 12:25PM ● By Editor
The Varsity Theater, home to concerts, used the marquee to address the need for washing hands due to the coronavirus on Monday at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. 
Photo: Jim Mone | AP

From Minnesota Public Radio News - March 17, 2020

In Minnesota, the count of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise. On Tuesday, the state Health Department confirmed 60 cases, up from 54 the day before. Overall, more than 2,300 people have tested for the new coronavirus in Minnesota. 

Other developments as of Tuesday, March 17: 

  • Governor closes bars, restaurants, gyms: Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order requires bars, restaurants, gyms, coffee shops, breweries and other venues to close to dine-in guests as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. It extends until 5 p.m. March 27 — but Walz said it’s likely that this is just the beginning. The measure allows businesses to continue takeout and delivery services. It does not cover grocery stores, convenience stores or pharmacies, the governor said. Full story here.

  • Mall of America to temporarily close: Days after many major Minnesota museums and attractions closed, the Mall of America now says it will do the same. The megamall will shut its doors from 5 p.m. Tuesday until at least March 31. “Complying with Governor Walz’ order is the right thing to do for the state, for our tenants, guests, and our team members,” said a statement posted to the mall’s websiteFull story here. 

  • Legislature passes emergency funding bill: Minnesota lawmakers took swift action and unanimous votes early Tuesday to direct $200 million toward a health care response fund aimed at helping front-line workers respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The money it contains can be used to pay staff, set up temporary testing and treatment units, purchase protective gear and make other changes aimed at slowing the spread of the contagious virus.  Full story here.

  • Workers affected by coronavirus can apply for unemployment benefits: Workers can file for benefits if they had their hours reduced or lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state agency says people should apply for benefits as soon as possible. Delaying may result in some benefit losses.  Full story here.

  • Minnesota hospitals warn of a possible surge: There are about 130 hospitals in Minnesota with around 11,100 beds, not counting state-run facilities, Veterans Affairs hospitals and Indian Health Service hospitals. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association, told the Legislature earlier this month that Twin Cities hospitals have approximately 5,000 acute care beds, 500 ICU beds and approximately 450 ventilators though that can be expanded slightly if needed. The number of available beds has hovered around 5 percent for the last few weeks, prior to reports of the first COVID-19 cases. Full story here. 

  • Frustration, confusion over limited access to COVID-19 tests: Reports abound from people saying they or a loved one have been sick with symptoms similar to those associated with COVID-19, and have been denied testing for myriad reasons. It highlights an issue of grave concern for providers and state health officials: That a shortage of COVID-19 tests may mean they’re missing cases among people with mild symptoms — who could be spreading the virus without even realizing it. Walz said the state needs a minimum of 15,000 tests per month. So far, Minnesota has tested only 1,900 people. Full story here.

President Trump recommended Monday that Americans continue to practice “social distancing,” and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people — a recommendation dramatically stricter than federal authorities’ issued guidelines. 

In the meantime, health officials continue to urge people to wash their hands — for at least 20 seconds; work from home, if possible; avoid large groups of people and maintain about 6 feet of distance from others when in public, as they work to blunt the rapid spread of the disease.

To read the original article and see related COVID-19 reporting, follow this link to the MPR website.

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