A reminder of the continued threat of COVID-19 came Friday, when state health officials reported 712 newly lab-confirmed cases of the infectious disease and 33 deaths.
The toll of the pandemic in Minnesota now stands at 26,980 known cases and 1,148 deaths, including 922 deaths of mostly elderly residents of long-term care and assisted-living facilities.
Hospitals had 478 COVID-19 patients admitted as of Friday, including 220 who needed intensive care for severe respiratory or other complications. The number of ICU patients was the lowest in 12 days.
Health officials warned that recent encouraging signs — including only 404 new cases on Thursday — shouldn’t result in complacency or disregard for social distancing measures that reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The state continues to recommend the wearing of non-medical-grade face masks and staying 6 feet apart from others in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19, even as government restrictions scale back. Churches were allowed to resume services at 25% capacity or no more than 250 people last week, and restaurants and bars were allowed to providing outdoor service starting Monday. A statewide stay-at-home order lasted 51 days until Gov. Tim Walz lifted it on May 18.
Recent protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody could result in a new wave of infections, including among African-Americans who have suffered higher rates of severe COVID-19 cases. Singing, shouting, and even labored breathing amid police use of tear gas to disperse protesters, could have hastened the spread of the virus in these mass gatherings, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said earlier this week.
COVID-19 testing is recommended for protesters, first-responders and even volunteers who cleaned debris or brought food and supplies to riot-damaged areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The health department recommended that people seek testing, ideally from their own doctors, in five to seven days after their participation in mass events.
Diagnostic testing could miss the virus if done too early, so health officials want people to wait until it is more likely to be detected in nasal and throat swabs.
Testing activity had declined last weekend, when the state’s public health lab shut down due to the protests. The state had only reported 4,184 tests on Tuesday, but 11,006 on Friday by public and private health labs.
An autopsy released Wednesday by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner showed that Floyd had tested positive on April 3 for COVID-19, and still had traces of the virus based on a nasal swab sample taken from him the day after his death. His asymptomatic infection was not listed as a contributing factor in his death, but it was a reminder of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic.
Black people make up less than 7% of Minnesota’s population, but more than 20% of its COVID-19 hospitalizations. Higher rates of chronic health problems have contributed to that disparity, because rates of diabetes and hypertension are higher among blacks in Minnesota.
A Star Tribune analysis of available death certificates showed that 25% of COVID-19 fatalities of black people in Minnesota involved decedents younger than 65. Among all COVID-19 deaths, only 10% involved people younger than 65.
Staff writer Glenn Howatt contributed to this story.