Hundreds of Minnesotans were released from COVID-19 quarantine over the weekend as wider testing discovers more cases that aren’t ending in death or serious illness.
The weekend saw Minnesota continue its recent trend of adding several hundred new confirmed cases and a couple dozen deaths from the viral illness each day. The state surpassed 6,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the cumulative death count reached 419.
But the number of people reported as released from quarantine is increasing sharply. Data that the Minnesota Department of Health released Sunday showed that the number of people in that category grew almost 26% between just Friday and Saturday nights.
That included 594 people who recovered from their symptoms and stayed free of fever and respiratory problems for three days. The state also counted 24 people as no longer in isolation because they died.
Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health, said through a spokesman that the increase in recoveries likely stems from the overall increase in COVID-19 testing in Minnesota.
“Released from isolation is just a function of who was tested and who now has met the requisite time frame and does not have symptoms,” Ehresmann said Sunday via an e-mail from a Health Department spokesman.
All told, Minnesota has had 6,663 cases of COVID-19 confirmed with testing since the first case was diagnosed just over eight weeks ago in the state, including 435 cases added to the tally Sunday. Just over 3,000 people are no longer self-quarantining.
State officials have set aggressive goals for ramping up coronavirus testing while warning the public to expect increasing numbers of confirmed cases as surveillance efforts expand.
Hospitals and state public health officials have been reporting the results of more than 3,000 tests per day since Thursday.
The 3,323 completed tests that were included as part of Sunday’s data release fell well short of the goal of 20,000 tests per day that Gov. Tim Walz unveiled on April 22. State officials said it might take several weeks to reach the goal of maximizing testing capacity in the state.
Nearly 83,000 tests have been completed in Minnesota to detect the virus that causes COVID-19. All but 13,000 of them were conducted by private hospitals and laboratories, though all positive test results are reported to the state.
COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which surfaced last year in China and spread into a global pandemic that state officials have called an act of nature.
Dramatic public health efforts to limit the virus’ spread have led to closures of schools, many workplaces and public areas, and caused more than 30 million Americans to seek federal jobless benefits in the past six weeks.
Most people who get COVID-19 don’t suffer devastating illness, but a small proportion have organ failure or severe respiratory problems and end up in intensive care. Advanced age and underlying health conditions increase a person’s risks.
The epidemiology is still evolving, but the best reports available today say about 80% of COVID-19 cases involve mild to no symptoms and don’t require hospitalization. The portion who need critical care in a hospital is generally thought to be about 5%, though the severity estimate may decline as widespread testing reveals previously unknown cases.
The statistics released Sunday by the state’s Department of Health showed 373 people now in the hospital with COVID-19, including 155 in intensive care.
Public health officials in Minnesota have published a disease-progression model that assumes 27% of people ages 80 or older will need to be hospitalized if they get COVID-19, and 70% of those patients would be moved to intensive-care unit (ICU) beds in the hospital. The ICU is where invasive critical-care devices like mechanical ventilators are used, though not all ICU patients go on a ventilator.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s epidemiological model assumed fewer than 5% of people younger than 50 would need hospitalization, and only 6% of them will need to be moved to the ICU once hospitalized.
Besides age and underlying health conditions, residing in a group-living facility can be a risk factor. Just over 80% of the fatalities in Minnesota have been residents of long-term care or assisted-living facilities. Twenty-one of the 24 deaths reported Sunday occurred in long-term care facilities.
In Winona County, residents of the Sauer Health Care facility for skilled nursing and hospice services accounted for at least 14 of that county’s 15 deaths from COVID-19, Jan Malcolm, Health Department commissioner, confirmed last week. That means about 20% of the 67 confirmed cases in the southeastern Minnesota county resulted in the deaths of people who lived at the same facility.
In Nobles County, in the southwestern part of the state, a fast-moving outbreak among working-age employees at the JBS USA pork-processing plant in Worthington led to mass testing that documented 940 cases as of Sunday. Yet the county has recorded just a single death from COVID-19.
In both counties, as in the rest of the state, health officials caution that a lack of widespread, reliable testing for COVID-19 means there’s no sure way to know how many cases truly exist in a given community or what the actual death rate is.
Because no test to detect COVID-19 is perfect and the virus can be spread by asymptomatic people, Walz has urged Minnesotans to wear protective masks in public to catch breath droplets that spread the virus.
“We continue our work along with many partners around the state to protect Minnesotans and prevent additional deaths,” Malcolm said Sunday in a statement. “It is very important for all Minnesotans to do their part in that effort by following social distancing guidelines and other public health recommendations.”
The state recommends people avoid gathering with others outside their homes and maintain 6 feet of space between themselves and others when they do have to leave. Residents should wash their hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and regularly clean surfaces and objects that are touched often.
On Thursday, Walz extended a statewide stay-at-home order until May 18 that generally requires Minnesotans to remain at home and to work from home if possible, while allowing thousands of retail businesses to be open for delivery or curbside services.
The order strongly encourages, but does not mandate, that all residents wear manufactured or homemade face coverings in public places where it is hard to stay 6 feet apart at all times, such as the grocery store and other essential businesses.