Another nine deaths and 705 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health, offering a reminder of the growing toll of the pandemic even as the state ended a stay-at-home order that had lasted 51 days.
The state has reported 731 deaths associated with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus, and 16,372 cases confirmed through diagnostic testing.
Flags throughout Minnesota will be at half-staff on Tuesday — and on the 19th of every month in 2020 — in memory of those who died.
Daily case numbers by the state have tended to be lower on Mondays, due to lower testing and reporting activities over the weekends. Health officials expect continued growth in infections, though, as the resumption of more businesses and social gatherings allows the virus to spread.
The amount of patients hospitalized will be closely watched as health officials assess the impact of any growth in COVID-19 on the state’s health care resources. As of Monday, there were 488 patients with COVID-19 in hospital care, including 229 who needed intensive care. That number has remained stable over the past week.
COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus that first emerged in China this winter and spread globally. As many as 80% of cases involve people with mild or no symptoms and that has fueled the pandemic because people are able to spread it before they know they are sick.
So far in Minnesota, 10,764 people with lab-confirmed cases have recovered and are no longer required to isolate themselves to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Hospital resources have improved over the last three weeks, particularly in regard to personal protective equipment that reduces the threat of doctors, nurses and other caregivers being infected by the virus.
As of Monday morning, the state’s pandemic response page listed a stockpile of 1.2 million N95 masks that are fitted and offer more protection than standard surgical masks — as well as another 2.6 million scheduled for delivery. Three weeks ago, the site listed only 478,000 such masks obtained with another 1.6 million awaiting delivery.
Modeling by the University of Minnesota and state health researchers suggested that nearly two months of reduced contact under a stay-at-home order made a difference. Face-to-face contact and opportunities for disease transmission reduced by 55%, although initial predictions suggested a larger 80% reduction, according to modeling results released last week.
The researchers found that replacing the stay-at-home order today with lesser restrictions would result in a surge of COVID-19 cases that could still exhaust the state’s supply of hospital intensive care beds.
At peak demand under this scenario, the researchers predicted the need for 3,397 ICU beds with ventilators, which are needed for COVID-19 cases that cause severe respiratory symptoms and difficulty breathing.
The state’s preparation website lists a total capacity of 3,696 ventilators in Minnesota — though with 858 on back order.
The end of the stay-at-home order allowed more retailers to open with curbside service and set a target of June 1 for restaurants and public gathering places to reopen as well.
For now, gatherings of any more than 10 people are discouraged, and health officials asked Minnesotans to continue to follow social distancing guidelines of staying six feet from others in public, and public health tips such as washing hands and covering coughs.