Twenty-three more people have died from COVID-19 in Minnesota, state health officials reported Saturday, as the number of confirmed cases continued to mount with expanded coronavirus testing across the state.

The statewide toll is now 244 deaths, according to data posted Saturday morning by the Minnesota Department of Health. All but one of the new deaths reported were residents of long-term care facilities, the Health Department says. Long-term care residents now account for 188 deaths in the state.

The number of known COVID-19 cases increased from 3,185 to 3,446. Minnesota saw big one-day increases in Kandiyohi County, where an outbreak has emerged among poultry plant workers, and also in Nobles County, where an outbreak linked to workers at the JBS pork processing plant resulted in the shutdown of the plant earlier this week.

A total of 288 people currently require hospitalization, compared with 278 on Friday, the Health Department said. There are 109 patients in the ICU, compared with 111 intensive care patients Friday.

COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus that surfaced in China late last year. Since the first case was reported in Minnesota on March 6, a total of 797 people have been hospitalized, up from 756 on Friday.

Most patients with COVID-19 don’t need to be hospitalized. The illness usually causes mild or moderate sickness, the Health Department says, and does not require a clinic visit.

More than a week ago, union officials started reporting an outbreak among workers at the JBS pork processing plant in Worthington. The company said it would close the plantthis week, but case counts in Nobles County continue to rise — jumping from 258 known cases on Friday to 325 cases on Saturday. The county has seen one COVID-19 death.

Jennie-O Turkey Store, which is a unit of Hormel Foods, said Friday it was indefinitely closing two turkey processing plants in Willmar, Minn., after 14 workers tested positive for COVID-19. The confirmed case tally for Kandiyohi County jumped from 12 on Friday to 28 on Saturday, according to the Health Department.

Public health officials say the reported case county in Minnesota dramatically understates the number who’ve been infected and sickened in the state. The Health Department says each confirmed case might represent 100 actual cases.

By that math, nearly 5% of the state might have been infected thus far, state officials say, but they stress the estimate must be backed up with future research and testing.

Limited testing supplies has made it impossible to precisely document the spread, but state officials announced this week a significant boost to the supply of testing.

Between March 29 and April 22, Minnesota was testing an average of 1,331 people per day and confirming about 91 casees per day, according to a Star Tribune analysis. The tabulation shows that over the past three days with increased testing, Minnesota has run an average of 2,418 tests and confirmed about 242 cases per day.

“The goal is to get to the point where every care provider can get symptomatic patients tested really promptly,” said Jan Malcolm, the state Health Commissioner, during a news conference Thursday. “We’re hoping that we can achieve that within the next four weeks — that every symptomatic person is able to get a test.”

Numbers released Saturday show there are now 1,654 patients in the state who no longer need to be in isolation, up from 1,594 patients on Friday. The approximate number of tests completed stands at 56,597, up from 53,787 at Friday’s data release.

The number of counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases held steady at 78. Hennepin remains the county with the most known cases (1,287) and deaths (155); Saturday’s report listed 87 new confirmed cases and 17 new deaths in the state’s most populous county.

The median age for all cases is 52, and the median age for all those who have died is 83.

The Health Department said the age ranges held steady in three categories: all cases (four weeks to 109 years); hospitalized cases (four weeks to 102 years); and deaths (ages 50 to 109).

A 16-year-old apparently is now being treated in the ICU, with the age range for all intensive care cases now spanning 16 years to 95 years, according to Saturday’s data release.

The Health Department said the likely exposure for 28% of the state’s known cases is community transmission. Congregate living staff or residents account for 27% of confirmed cases, while health care staffers represent 10% of known cases.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tim Walz extended a “stay-at-home” order that’s meant to slow the spread of the disease to reserve scarce health care resources. On Thursday, he said certain manufacturers and offices could start to reopen next week if they develop plans to keep workers distant from one another.

The Health Department added to its list of congregate care facilities being identified with at least one COVID-19 case among a resident or staff, upping the total from 100 to 106 facilities. State officials are releasing names only for facilities with at least 10 residents.

White residents account for 54% of the state’s known cases and 70% of deaths. Black Minnesotans account for 14% of confirmed cases and 5% of deaths.

Race and ethnicity data is unknown for 20% of cases, according to the Health Department.

This is developing story. Check back for updates.


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck