The toll of COVID-19 on Minnesota continued to rise on Thursday, with another 25 deaths being linked to the infectious disease, even as the state prepared for the reopening of more businesses and retail shops next week.
The total COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota is now 663, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, with another nine deaths being probable but not verified with diagnostic tests. Total confirmed cases in the state reached 13,435, with another 523 being reported Thursday.
The number of hospitalizations will become an increasingly important metric for Minnesota. There were 498 COVID-19 cases that required hospital care as of Thursday, including 203 needing intensive care.
Gov. Tim Walz first issued a statewide stay-at-home order in late March to reduce social contact and buy time for hospitals to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 cases by adding more beds and ventilators — as well as masks and gowns to protect doctors and nurses from infection.
Walz on Wednesday night announced that the order would expire as scheduled on Monday. While some restrictions remain in place — bars and salons won’t be able to open until June 1 at the earliest, and gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited — the end of the broader order could result in a surge in infections and cases.
“The whole purpose of this was just to push this thing out, flatten it and slow down. You’re not going to prevent it,” Walz said on WCCO radio Thursday morning. “I think it’s hard for people to wrap their head around [that] folks are still going to get this. The fear was, you saw this in other places, they weren’t ready and it overwhelmed the system.”
Hospitals have dramatically increased their capacities over the past two months, though. As of Thursday, the state reported a supply of 1,443 ventilators in hospitals — with only 529 in use by patients with COVID-19 or other unrelated medical problems. The state also has a surge supply of 1,401 more ventilators and another 858 on back order for delivery, for a total of 3,702.
The latest modeling of the disease progression by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the state Health Department suggests that such a surge could still consume all available hospital ICU beds and ventilators. That would dramatically increase the odds of death if patients with severe COVID-19 cases didn’t have ventilators available when they needed them.
For example, one model estimated the impact on hospitals of COVID-19 if the statewide stay-at-home order ended Monday and was followed by a gradual reduction in social distancing measures. It estimated a peak demand for ICU beds with ventilators at 3,397 in late June, but with a confidence interval that theoretically could put the demand above the state’s supply.
Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has increased as well since the state reached a $36 million partnership with the U and Mayo Clinic to increase its testing capacity over the next month to 20,000 tests per day. On Thursday, the state reported another 6,717 tests, bringing the total conducted so far in Minnesota to 128,752.
The state Health Department announced Wednesday that it overstated the number of tests performed, though. Because of an internal reporting error, 2,316 tests were double counted for about 10 days beginning in late April.
The agency corrected its website, which resulted in a 2% decrease in the total number of tests performed.
Staff writers Glenn Howatt and Torey Van Oot contributed to this story.