(FOX 9) - Minnesota reported 23 new deaths attributed to COVID-19 Saturday—the biggest one-day spike so far. The state’s death toll from the disease is now 244.
Of those Minnesotans who have died, 190 were residents of long-term care facilities, health officials said.
State health officials reported Saturday that the total number of positive cases has reached 3,446. However, health officials say the number of confirmed cases is still considered to be an undercount due to a lack of widespread testing.
Of the confirmed cases of coronavirus in Minnesota, at least 1,654 are patients who have recovered and no longer need to be isolated, according to the latest data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Nobles County, home to the JBS pork plant in Worthington, surged to 325 confirmed cases of COVID-19 Saturday, the second highest number of cases of any county in the state. Nobles County has the 45th largest population of Minnesota's 87 counties.
Officials said 288 patients are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, with 109 of them in the intensive care units. The youngest COVID-19 patient in the ICU is 19 years old.
Minnesota's youngest COVID-19 patient is a 4-week-old infant. The oldest is 109 years old. The median age of the Minnesotans who have died from COVID-19 is 83. The age range for the state's deaths is 50 to 109 years old.
Approximately 28 percent of Minnesota's COVID-19 cases are in congregate care facilities, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilites and group homes. Officials have now begun identifying congregate living facilities that have seen COVID-19 cases.
Health officials say the virus is likely circulating in every Minnesota community, whether a county has a confirmed case or not.
Gov. Tim Walz says he will not allow the economy to fully reopen until the state dramatically scales up its capacity to test people for the virus. He says Minnesota needs to test 5,000 people per day, or 40,000 tests per week, to effectively predict hotspots and isolate vulnerable people.
There were 2,239 tests in a 24-hour period Friday, as state health officials say anyone with symptoms will now be able to get a test. But, that is still far short of the 20,000 tests state health officals say is the goal within four weeks.
MDH confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Minnesota on March 6. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic.
MINORITIES DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY COVID-19
Health officials are worried about the access to care for people of color as well as how they are treated by health care workers as COVID-19 cases increase in Minnesota.
Recent data shows whites make up about 84 percent of the state’s population, but they only represent 56 percent of cases. African Americans now make up 13 percent of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.
While minorities represent a disproportionate number of coronavirus cases in Minnesota, the death rates for those groups are not as high. Black Minnesotans account for five percent of deaths attributed to the virus, while white Minnesotans represent 72 percent.
Lack of access to health care, unfair treatment by health care workers, and underlying health conditions are some of the major reasons behind the disparities. African Americans and other minority groups are also less likely to be able to work from home and rely on public transit.
HEALTH CARE WORKERS CONTINUE PLEA FOR MORE PPE
Approximately 11 percent of Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases are health care workers who were exposed to the virus on the job, although health officials note that health care workers are a priority when it comes to testing.
As the overall number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, health care workers are expressing concerns about the ongoing shortage of personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks.
So far, the state has received 409,000 N95 masks, but only distributed 32,000 and is waiting for 1.6 million more.
At some hospitals, health care workers are being asked to reuse PPE like N95 masks, when they would usually use one per patient. For example, M Health Fairview said it is giving each front line worker five N95 respirators to rotate over 10 days, with the hope of using each one twice. They also started using ultraviolet radiation to decontaminate those masks daily so they can be used up to six times.
First responders and health care workers have been granted easier access to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19 on the job. Gov. Walz signed legislation earlier this month which designates the coronavirus as a workplace illness for firefighters, EMTs, police officers, health care workers and some child care providers.
MINNESOTANS ORDERED TO STAY HOME
To slow the spread of COVID-19 and continue to give the state health care system more time to prepare, Gov. Walz has extended the peacetime emergency through May 13.
Since declaring the peacetime emergency on March 13, Walz has used sweeping powers under the emergency declaration to force thousands of businesses and schools to close, activate the National Guard and halt evictions.
The governor’s stay-at-home order has also been extended until May 4, although it includes a handful of new exemptions that allows some people to go back to work.
Walz has expanded unemployment benefits to employees impacted by the closures resulting from the pandemic. Since mid-March, more than 428,000 Minnesotans—13.7 percent of the state’s workforce—have filed for unemployment, although the trend appears to be slowing.
MDH has three hotlines for questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hotline for health questions is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The number to call is 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903.
The hotline for community mitigation (schools, childcare, business) questions is also open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The number to call is 651-297-1304 or 1-800-657-3504.
The hotline for housing questions is 651-296-8215 for single-family residences and 651-297-4455 for multi-family residences. The hotline is staff Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The state has also launched a helpline for people to report incidents of bias or discrimination resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The number to call is 1-833-454-0148. Translation and interpretation services are available.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE SICK
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person between people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
It can also spread when people touch surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
Some recent studies have also suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscles aches, headache, sore throat or diarrhea. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you can manage them at home, MDH says you do not need to go to the doctor or get tested. Instead, you should do the following:
Wash your hands often
Cough your coughs and sneezes
Avoid sharing personal household items like dishes, towels, bedding, etc.
Clean surfaces you touch often
If your symptoms worsen or you notice any of the emergency warning signs (trouble breathing, ongoing pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or not being able to wake up, bluish lips or face), call your health can provider right away.
People are advised to call their doctor or clinic before going in, if possible. They will give you instructions to help protect you and other patients.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM COVID-19
The CDC and MDH recommend Minnesotans do the following to protect themselves and their loved ones and limit the spread of COVID-19:
Stay home and avoid gatherings with people outside of your household
Keep 6 feet of space between yourself and other people when you do go out
Wash your hands often
Cover your coughs and sneezes
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Clean surfaces that you touch often
The CDC is now recommending people wear face masks in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain such as grocery stores and pharmacies as well as in areas that are seeing significant community transmission of the virus.
Wearing a mask can not only prevent you from getting sick, but also helps people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.