Minnesota reports record-breaking 56 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday

The Minnesota Department of Health reported a record-breaking 56 deaths attributed to the coronavirus on Wednesday, vexing state officials who are imposing new restrictions to control the virus spread.

The previous record of 36 deaths was reported last Friday. 

The 56 people who died ranged in age from 55 to over 100 years old. Twenty of the newly reported deaths were in the Twin Cities metro while the rest were in Greater Minnesota. 

The newly reported deaths included 38 residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities. To date, approximately 71% of the state’s 2,754 deaths have been in those types of facilities. 

MDH also reported 4,900 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, and Gov. Tim Walz said the positivity rate saw a one-day surge above 20 percent.

On Tuesday, Walz imposed new restrictions on bars, restaurants and social gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The new restrictions target 18 to 35-year-olds, who make up the largest group of cases and often have mild to no symptoms. Minnesota is among 16 states that have created curfews for bars.

Walz said in an interview with MPR News on Wednesday he will not impose a new stay-at-home order unless Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas do too. 

“To ask Minnesotans to do that while the surrounding states obviously will not do that would just bring the pain to us and we would not get the movement we need,” said Walz, a first-term Democrat. 

Governors across the upper Midwest have been confounded by the virus in recent weeks. In Wisconsin, where public health officials reported more than 7,000 new cases and 62 deaths Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers bluntly told people to stay at home.

"It’s not safe to go out. It’s not safe to have others over. It’s just not safe, and it might not be safe for awhile yet," Evers said in a speech broadcast statewide.

Minnesota has now seen a total of 194,570 cases of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. 

There are currently 1,299 people in Minnesota hospitalized with COVID-19, including 282 in the ICU, according to the most recent MDH data.

The total number is triple what was a month ago on Oct. 10, when there were only 443 people in the hospital with COVID-19. The number of people currently in the ICU is double what it was then. 

Hospital administrators and physicians said hundreds of staffers are off the job because of community exposure to the virus.

Morgue not in use

Despite the recent increase in deaths, Walz said Minnesota still is not using its temporary morgue to store bodies.

The state bought a former food storage facility in St. Paul for $5.5 million in the spring. At the time, the Walz administration estimated that Minnesota's funeral homes and hospitals had capacity for 2,006 bodies, while public health officials thought 1,000 Minnesotans could die each week from the virus.

Republicans criticized the building's purchase as a waste of money.

"The last thing in the world I ever want is an ‘I told you so’ on a morgue," Walz told reporters Wednesday. "I pray to God we never use that facility, but I also can assure every Minnesotan, your loved ones will be handled with dignity and care they deserve." 

Special session Thursday

Walz has extended his peacetime emergency powers for another 30 days, triggering another special session on Thursday -- lawmakers' sixth of the year. 

The governor said he expected a "subdued" session, but Republicans are deeply unhappy with Walz for his latest round of restrictions on bars, restaurants and private gatherings.

Rachel Aplikowski, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans, did not respond to a question about whether the GOP-controlled chamber would again vote to remove Walz's powers. 

Ending the emergency powers would require votes in both the House and Senate, which is unlikely with split party control.