State health officials warned earlier this week that more testing would mean more identification of COVID-19, and that proved true Friday with lab confirmation of another 243 cases of the respiratory illness.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 21 deaths as well, bringing the total death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic to 221 and the total case count to 3,185.

The new cases were based on 2,239 tests by public and private labs that were reported on Friday. That was a single-day high in the state for testing.

COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus for which there is no proven treatment or vaccine. While as many as 80% of infections result in only mild symptoms, COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory problems that can require intensive hospital care or the use of ventilators to help patients maintain adequate breathing.

As of Friday, 278 cases were in Minnesota hospitals, and 111 of those patients required intensive care.

All but nine counties have reported lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, which are only a sampling due to limited testing of the actual spread of the coronavirus. The case count reached 258 in Worthington and surrounding Nobles County, where the JBS pork plant had to shut down temporarily due to an outbreak in its workforce.

So far, the state’s public and private labs have conducted 53,787 molecular diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Gov. Tim Walz earlier this week announced a $36 million plan along with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic to increase the state’s capacity to as many as 20,000 diagnostic tests per day.

The institutions also will provide thousands of daily blood serum antibody tests to identify people who have already recovered from COVID-19 and might have at least temporary immunity to reinfection. State government and health leaders are determining how to allocate those antibody tests and to prioritize them for health care and other essential workers who would benefit from knowing their infection status.

The state health department has already notified doctors to press ahead with collecting nasal or throat swab samples for molecular diagnostic tests for all patients with suspicious respiratory symptoms. A health alert sent to doctors on Thursday removed prior recommendations for doctors to reserve testing for select high-risk populations, including residents of long-term care facilities.

COVID-19 continues to be more severe for people who are elderly and have underlying health conditions. The youngest death so far was in someone aged 50. The median age of all deaths is 83.

On Thursday, state health officials confirmed that 20 of 21 deaths reported that day involved long-term care residents.


Twitter: @stribjo