(FOX 9) - The Minnesota Department of Health reported 25 new confirmed deaths from COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the state's death toll from the disease to 663. For the second day in a row, a person under 40 was among the Minnesotans who died.
Of the 25 new deaths reported Thursday, 20 were residents of long-term care facilities. Residents of long-term care facilities now account for nearly 13 percent of Minnesota's positive COVID-19 cases, but more than 80 percent of deaths.
For the first time, Minnesota has more than 200 COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit. As of Thursday, there are currently 498 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, with 203 of them in the ICU.
However, the number of ICU cases has been relatively stable since last Thursday, when the state reported 198 cases. The youngest COVID-19 patient in the ICU is a less than one-month-old infant. More than 14 percent of Minnesota's COVID-19 cases have required hospitalization.
Minnesota health officials reported 6,717 completed tests from Wednesday--by far the most of any one day.
MDH said there were 523 newly reported COVID-19 cases Thursday. The cumultive number of positive cases is now up to 13,435. Because all data are preliminary, the change in number of cumulative positive cases and deaths from one day to the next may not equal the newly reported cases or deaths, according to MDH.
More than 63 percent of patients confirmed to have COVID-19 have now recovered and no longer need to self-isolate.
Nearly 20 percent of Minnesota's COVID-19 cases are associated with congregate living facilities, which includes assisted living facilities, nursing homes and group homes. Officials have now begun identifying congregate living facilities that have seen COVID-19 cases.
Eighty-four of Minnesota's 87 counties now have confirmed cases of COVID-19 with at least 15 of them reporting more than 100 confirmed cases of the disease. Cook, Hubbard and Lake of the Woods are the only counties that have yet to report a confirmed case, although health officials say the virus is likely circulating in every Minnesota community, whether a county has a confirmed case or not.
Stearns County has the second-most confirmed cases in the state with 1,609, behind only Hennepin County, which has 4,331. Testing in the county has ramped up and the New York Times recently labeled St. Cloud as the number one most likely place in the country for the next big flare-up.
Nobles County now has 1,319 confirmed cases among its approximately 22,000 residents—the third-most in the state. Nobles County has the 45th largest population of Minnesota’s 87 counties. MDH has focused testing in that area after an outbreak at the JBS pork plant in Worthington sickened hundreds of workers.
MDH confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Minnesota on March 6. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic.
MINORITIES DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY COVID-19
Health officials are worried about the access to care for people of color as well as how they are treated by health care workers as COVID-19 cases increase in Minnesota.
Recent data shows white Minnesotans make up about 84 percent of the state’s population, but they only represent 33 percent of cases. Black Minnesotans now make up 18 percent of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases. According to MDH data, in 34 percent of cases the patient's race is listed as "unknown/missing"
While minorities represent a disproportionate number of coronavirus cases in Minnesota, the death rates for those groups are not as high. Black Minnesotans account for about five percent of deaths attributed to the virus, while white Minnesotans represent 66 percent.
Lack of access to health care, unfair treatment by health care workers and underlying health conditions are some of the major reasons behind the disparities, according to health care professionals.
HEALTH CARE WORKERS CONTINUE PLEA FOR MORE PPE
Of Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases, at least 1,605 are health care workers, although health officials note that health care workers are a priority when it comes to testing.
As the overall number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, health care workers are expressing concerns about the ongoing shortage of personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks.
At some hospitals, health care workers are being asked to reuse PPE like N95 masks, when they would usually use one per patient. For example, M Health Fairview said it is giving each front line worker five N95 respirators to rotate over 10 days, with the hope of using each one twice. They also started using ultraviolet radiation to decontaminate those masks daily so they can be used up to six times.
First responders and health care workers have been granted easier access to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19 on the job. Gov. Walz signed legislation earlier this month which designates the coronavirus as a workplace illness for firefighters, EMTs, police officers, health care workers and some child care providers.
MINNESOTANS ORDERED TO STAY HOME
To slow the spread of COVID-19 and continue to give the state health care system more time to prepare, Gov. Walz has extended the peacetime emergency through May 13.
Since declaring the peacetime emergency on March 13, Walz has used sweeping powers under the emergency declaration to force thousands of businesses and schools to close, activate the National Guard and halt evictions.
The governor’s stay-at-home order has also been extended until May 18, although it includes a handful of new exemptions that allows some people to go back to work.
Walz has expanded unemployment benefits to employees impacted by the closures resulting from the pandemic. Since mid-March, more than about 540,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment, although the trend appears to be slowing.
MDH has three hotlines for questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hotline for health questions is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The number to call is 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903.
The hotline for community mitigation (schools, childcare, business) questions is also open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The number to call is 651-297-1304 or 1-800-657-3504.
The hotline for housing questions is 651-296-8215 for single-family residences and 651-297-4455 for multi-family residences. The hotline is staff Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The state has also launched a helpline for people to report incidents of bias or discrimination resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The number to call is 1-833-454-0148. Translation and interpretation services are available.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE SICK
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person between people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
It can also spread when people touch surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
Some recent studies have also suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscles aches, headache, sore throat or diarrhea. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you can manage them at home, MDH says you do not need to go to the doctor or get tested. Instead, you should do the following:
- Stay home
- Wash your hands often
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Avoid sharing personal household items like dishes, towels, bedding, etc.
- Clean surfaces you touch often
If your symptoms worsen or you notice any of the emergency warning signs (trouble breathing, ongoing pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or not being able to wake up, bluish lips or face), call your health can provider right away.
People are advised to call their doctor or clinic before going in, if possible. They will give you instructions to help protect you and other patients.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM COVID-19
The CDC and MDH recommend Minnesotans do the following to protect themselves and their loved ones and limit the spread of COVID-19:
- Stay home and avoid gatherings with people outside of your household
- Keep 6 feet of space between yourself and other people when you do go out
- Wash your hands often
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Clean surfaces that you touch often
The CDC is now recommending people wear face masks in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain such as grocery stores and pharmacies as well as in areas that are seeing significant community transmission of the virus.
Wearing a mask can not only prevent you from getting sick, but also helps people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to oth