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Latest on COVID-19 in Minnesota: 87 dead, intensive care count jumps

Apr 15, 2020 05:37AM ● By Editor
"For Sale By Owner" and "Closed Due to Virus" signs are displayed in the window of Images On Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., on April 2.  Photo: Paul Sancya | AP Photo file

From Minnesota Public Radio News - April 15, 2020

Minnesota officials on Wednesday reported 87 deaths tied to COVID-19, up eight from Tuesday, as the number of people in intensive care units jumped to 93, up from 75. Nearly 200 people are hospitalized.

The total count of positive tests for the disease since the pandemic began hit 1,809, with just over half recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. Health data experts believe the total case count represents a sliver of the the number of Minnesotans carrying the coronavirus.

State officials are expected to update reporters at 2 p.m. 

The new numbers come a day after Minnesota officials made it clear that the economic toll from the COVID-19 pandemic is falling heavily on women and people of color. 

Nearly 452,000 Minnesotans — about 14 percent of Minnesota’s workforce have applied for unemployment in recent weeks. Nearly 26 percent of the nonwhite labor force is seeking unemployment help, compared to about 12 percent of the white labor force. Of the total applicants, 55 percent are women. 

“The scope and scale of this is stunning,” said Steve Grove, the state’s employment and economic development commissioner. 

A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date

Among the other updates posted Wednesday by the Health Department:

  • The latest deaths include six in Hennepin County, with one each in St. Louis and Clay counties counties. Officials say nearly every one of Minnesota’s deaths involved people with underlying health problems; most had been living in long-term care settings.

  • 71 of Minnesota’s 87 counties have at least one confirmed case, up one from Tuesday, with Norman County seeing its first positive test.

One other concern surfacing in Wednesday’s data: The reported daily testing of Minnesotans — a key piece of the effort to restart the economy — has been falling in recent days. 

Gov. Tim Walz has said the state needs to be testing some 5,000 people a day as part of the effort to reopen the economy. However, Health Department statistics show the state reporting an average 940 daily tests completed Monday through Wednesday, down about a third compared to Monday through Friday last week.

A graph showing the percentage of cases tested and their current status

Walz has signaled the state planned to move into a more aggressive posture to test for COVID-19 and trace and isolate those infected as part of the next phase of reopening parts of the economy.

Minnesota has tested a little more than 40,000 people for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. But before the state begins returning to normal, Walz said he was aiming for some 5,000 tests per day or 40,000 a week and pushing to get the more aggressive testing regimen ramped up by May 4, when his current stay-at-home order is set to expire.

On Tuesday, the governor acknowledged the growing frustration of Minnesotans over the need to stay out of most public spaces to check the disease. He said he was sick of it, too, but that it was still necessary. “I wish I could say it’s magically over ... but that will kill people.”

Developments from around the region

Grand Forks wind power plant idled

The LM Wind Power facility in Grand Forks, N.D. will, temporarily halt production after multiple workers tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

Nine workers at the facility have tested positive for the illness. It is not yet known how long the plant will remain closed. There are around 900 workers at the Grand Forks facility.

Minnesotans join White House economic restart panel 

A handful of Minnesota executives have been named to a White House task force of 219 people that will make recommendations to President Trump about restarting the economy.

They include Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, and Hubert Joly, executive board chair at Best Buy. Life Time fitness founder Bahram Akradi is also listed among retail experts on the list. David MacLennan, CEO of Cargill, is among the agriculture experts, and U.S. Bank president Andrew Cecere is on the banking panel. The health care group includes 3M CEO Mike Roman and UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann.

Others on the list include Apple’s Tim Cook, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and a handful of so-called thought leaders, such as Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state.

— Tim Nelson, MPR News

Cabinet pay cuts save $300K; new budget outlook coming

The move this week by Gov. Tim Walz to cut his own pay and that of top advisers is part of a broader review of state costs. 

Walz announced 10 percent pay cuts for the rest of the year for him, his chief of staff and 24 cabinet level officials that is expected to save $300,000. The governor makes just shy of $130,000 per year but agency commissioners earn more than that.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, whose salary is roughly $83,000 per year, is not included in the pay reductions.

There is also a hiring freeze in place to reduce expenses as the coronavirus pandemic takes a bite out of state revenue and pushes other program costs up.

Employee overtime costs will also be reviewed.

State officials will release a special budget projection early next month. It will attempt to size up the drop in tax collections and estimate what federal assistance could be coming Minnesota’s way.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Medtronic announces $9M ventilator contract with HHS

Medtronic said on Tuesday the company has a federal contract to provide hospitals with hundreds of ventilators that can save the lives of COVID-19 patients. The contract with the Department of Health and Human Services is worth about $9 million.

The deal calls for Medtronic to deliver about a thousand ventilators to hospitals by June 22. About 200 of the devices would arrive by early next month.

Dublin-based Medtronic has extensive operations in the Twin Cities. The company has increased ventilator production by more than 40 percent and is looking to more than double its ventilator manufacturing capacity.

— Martin Moylan | MPR News

Layoffs, shutdowns spike in N.D. oil industry amid pandemic

The sharp decline in oil prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit hard in the North Dakota oil fields. 

In his monthly briefing, North Dakota Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms said 2,200 oil workers were laid off in March — and that's just the beginning.

"That could extend by maybe another 6,000 jobs with a total of somewhere between 8,000 and 8,500 job losses before things start to turn around and come back,” Helms said.

Helms says oil drilling activity is down by 40 percent, and because prices are so low, oil companies have stopped pumping oil from 4,600 wells.

Helms said the downturn will have a significant but as yet undetermined effect on state tax revenue. 

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Minnesota Orchestra reworks season schedule

The Minnesota Orchestra has restructured the remainder of its current season due to the coronavirus. This involves postponing or canceling all concerts through this June. 

The "Summer at Orchestra Hall" season is now pushed back to July 2021. 

The orchestra is adding five extra weeks of performances in August and early September this year to accommodate some concerts postponed from the current season. Others from the spring schedule will be part of the 2020-21 season, including two concerts with the band Cloud Cult.

— Euan Kerr | MPR News

Top headlines

State officials expect virus to take greater toll on racial minorities: COVID-19 is more deadly for African Americans than it is for whites, according to early data from several states and major metropolitan areas. So far, Minnesota has not detected racial differences in deaths from the virus. But given the state’s well-documented disparities in health and access to health care, experts suspect the pandemic will hurt people of color the most.

Minnesota lawmakers advance new COVID-19 bill: An increasingly fractured Legislature pushed the latest coronavirus-related package through Tuesday, providing couples remote access to marriage licenses and farmers more breathing room on debt. The bill also assures coronavirus testing and treatment for the uninsured, gives food shelves money to buy excess milk and food products, waives some Health Department regulations to speed the COVID-19 response and gives the courts more latitude to deal with disrupted cases.

Closed schools in Minnesota begin to lay off, furlough staff:Dozens of educators and other staff in several Minnesota districts have been laid off or furloughed as a result of statewide school closures that are intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

MN Arts Board changes grant process at a troubled time: The government entity — which is responsible for distributing millions of dollars in cultural legacy funds to artists across Minnesota — is suspending nine of its grant-making programs. The move, coming as arts groups are reeling from the effects of the pandemic and Minnesota’s stay-at-home order, struck some artists as yet another hit to their incomes.

Taking care

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Health officials for weeks have been increasingly raising the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. The disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

The state of Minnesota has temporarily closed schools, while administrators work to determine next steps, and is requiring a temporary closure of all in-person dining at restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as theaters, gyms, yoga studios and other spaces in which people congregate in close proximity.

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

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