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Latest on COVID-19 in Minnesota: 28 more deaths, 594 new cases

May 01, 2020 05:37AM ● By Editor
Gov. Tim Walz answers questions while holding his mask at a press conference inside the Department of Public Safety in St. Paul on Thursday.  Photo: Evan Frost | MPR News

From Minnesota Public Radio News - May 1, 2020

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.

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.


Developments from around the state

SW Minnesota outbreak, meat supply concerns widen

An outbreak centered around the massive JBS pork plant in Worthington continues to mushroom. 

Nobles County had 615 cases confirmed Wednesday. On Thursday it hit 742. 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.

Minnesota DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said earlier this week that state officials, JBS executives and union leaders will work on a plan that would allow the plant to reopen while keeping workers safe and tested as they enter.

Peterson said nearly 500 JBS workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, about 20 to 25 percent of the plant’s workforce. Restarting JBS, he said, would require slowing down the hog processing and spacing out workers on the line with shields between them. 

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 Thursday, the Health Department reported 91 people in the county have now tested positive.

— MPR News staff


Top headlines

Judge orders Corrections Department to respond to Moose Lake allegations: A judge has ordered the Minnesota Department of Corrections to demonstrate that it has sufficiently protected inmates at the Moose Lake prison from COVID-19. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a lawsuit in mid-April alleging that the Corrections Department and the Moose Lake prison have failed to implement sufficient measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

MN Senate passes GOP tax bill that delays payments: Republicans in the Minnesota Senate, along with five Democrats, passed a $327 million tax relief measure aimed at helping businesses survive COVID-19 closures.

Northern Minn. companies step in to help fill PPE shortage: Hospitals and clinics have struggled to get enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Duluth, and across the state, local companies have retooled to manufacture masks, face shields, and other equipment to help meet that shortfall.

New Hope nursing home sees 'devastating' 47 deaths from COVID-19: St. Therese said that since early April, 47 residents of the 258-bed facility have died of the disease caused by the coronavirus. It has tested 100 percent of residents, with the results of the final 25 expected in the next few days, and that 130 residents have tested positive since testing began in late March.


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.  https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/05/01/latest-on-covid19-in-mn

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