Another 114 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths were confirmed Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health.
The state has now suffered 87 deaths and 1,809 lab-confirmed cases, including 197 who are currently hospitalized with severe illness but also 940 people who have recovered and are no longer required to isolate themselves.
All of the newly reported deaths involved residents of long-term care facilities — with six in Hennepin County and one each in St. Louis and Clay counties. COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus that appears to cause more severe illness among people who are older or have underlying health conditions — making long-term care residents a high-risk population.
State health officials have responded with increased training and oversight of long-term care facilities, along with visitor and access restrictions to those facilities, to reduce the spread of infection among those high-risk individuals. State health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said there are some early signs of a payoff. While 108 long-term care facilities have reported outbreaks involving infected workers or residents, only half have had more than one case.
“It really does suggest to us that infection control is really helping limit the spread of those infections,” Malcolm said.
Another 20 cases required hospital care since Tuesday, including 18 who needed intensive care. So far, 445 people have been hospitalized due to complications of the virus.
Gov. Tim Walz’s statewide stay-at-home order for Minnesota was designed to at least delay the peak of COVID-19 cases into midsummer, buying time for hospitals to add beds and equipment that could otherwise be exhausted. The governor during his Wednesday media briefing urged people to continue to comply and follow social distancing recommendations that so far have showed Minnesota with the lowest rate of lab-confirmed COVID-19 case in the nation.
“What we are doing is working,” he said, “and when I say we, I mean all of us.”
Just over 1,000 COVID-19 tests were processed Tuesday and so far 40,242 patient samples have been tested for the virus.
Walz pressed his demand for Minnesota medical providers and companies to increase the state’s supply of diagnostic molecular tests to determine when people carry the COVID-19 virus, and the new supply of serological blood tests to determine when people have recovered from infection and might have short- or long-term immunity.
The governor said he wants to get to 5,000 diagnostic tests per day in the state, despite global shortages of the swabs needed to collect nasal or throat samples, and the chemical reagents needed to positively detect the virus.
“Until we get a vaccine, we are going to have to be able to identify who is sick,” said Walz, noting population-wide testing in Iceland that is finding that up to half of infected people have no symptoms.
Both the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic have unveiled antibody tests, which for starters are being provided to find out if health care workers have been infected. Mayo has the lab capacity already to conduct 10,000 antibody tests per day, having a national lab that has already done widespread serological testing for other outbreaks such as of the zikavirus two years ago.
Ramping up capacity to 20,000 samples per day would allow Mayo to perform some surveillance testing for Minnesota to understand the breadth of the coronavirus pandemic in the state, said Dr. William Morice, president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories.
“One of the uses for this test at some point will be to test as many individuals as possible so we really have a good sense of how much this infection has actually spread through our population,” he said.
As the pandemic continues to take a toll in Minnesota, state officials are working to obtain the supplies needed to broaden testing as well as protect health care workers.
The state is awaiting delivery of 6.4 million face masks and 1.6 million N95 respirators, which are masks that fit tighter.
Although hospitalizations are generally increasing, along with the need for intensive care, the state’s hospitals are not yet stretched to capacity.
There were about 280 intensive care beds available and 780 respirators not in use as of Tuesday, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
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