Minnesota reported a single-day record of 30 deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, including a worker in the 50s age range at the JBS plant in Worthington that has shut down amid a substantial outbreak of the infectious disease.
More than three-fourths of the newly reported deaths involved elderly residents of long-term care facilities, which have become an increasing focus of state COVID-19 testing and response efforts. The state on Wednesday morning reported that one death involved a person in the 70s age range who was the spouse of a worker at the Jennie-0 turkey plant in Melrose. At least 11 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among workers at the Melrose plant. The disclosure that the death involved a spouse was an error by state health officials, who normally don’t reveal such specific details and leave that to county agencies, companies or families.
COVID-19 has spread statewide — with testing confirming a total of 8,579 infections so far and cases in all but five Minnesota counties. The state reported 728 of those cases on Wednesday alone. No cases have been confirmed yet on the Gunflint Trail or Northwest Angle regions of the state, but health officials have stressed that lab-confirmed cases are only a sampling of a COVID-19 outbreak that is widespread.
After a technical glitch reported low testing numbers earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday reported another 5,223 tests by public and private labs. That meets one of the goals of Gov. Tim Walz, who wanted the state to be testing at a rate of 5,000 patients per day at the start of this week.
The state has inked a $36 million partnership with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic to get the state to 20,000 diagnostic tests per day, which among other things will help in tracking the outbreak and spotting hot spots in individual communities earlier on.
Widespread testing of JBS workers found at least 490 COVID-19 cases among workers, and even more among spouses. Worthington and surrounding Nobles County now have 1,082 cases and two deaths — with the initial death involving a long-term care resident. Two food plants in Stearns County, which now has 975 lab-confirmed cases and three deaths, are among the seven such facilities statewide with outbreaks of multiple cases.
Hormel operates the Jennie-o plant in Melrose, and the company was unable to confirm the death of a worker’s spouse.
“Unfortunately, we aren’t able to confirm the news that was shared by the Department of Health due to confidentiality requirements that protect the identities of individuals,” the company said in a written statement. “We are doing our best to reach out to see if we can identify this team member and offer our support during this difficult time. We are deeply saddened to hear this news and the thoughts and deepest sympathies of the entire Jennie-O family are with this team member and their family as they deal with this terrible loss.”
Among all 485 COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota so far, 391 involved residents of long-term care facilities. COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus. While as many as 80% of people suffer mild or no symptoms, the respiratory disease has produced a higher rate of deaths among elderly patients and those with underlying health problems such as diabetes, asthma, compromised immune systems, and diseases of the heart, lungs or kidneys.
The surge in long-term care facility deaths is largely why Minnesota now has a higher death toll than Wisconsin, which as of May 4 had reported 353 COVID-19 deaths. That count included 148 deaths of people in Wisconsin living in long-term care facilities or group homes.
There were 443 people hospitalized in Minnesota for COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning — including 180 in intensive care. The median age of all cases in Minnesota so far is 46, and the median age of death is 83 — with a range from 30 to 109.
Matt DeLong contributed to this report.