Virus Outbreak Hospitals

In this April 2, 2020, file photo a nurse holds a vial and a swab at a drive-up coronavirus testing station at a hospital in Seattle. A federal report due out Monday, April 6, finds that three out of four U.S. hospitals surveyed are already treating patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Deaths linked to COVID-19 in Minnesota rose to 34 with 64 people in intensive care as the total number of cases jumped to 1,069, up 83 from Monday the state Health Department said Tuesday.

It was the largest single day jump in Minnesota cases since the first case was confirmed just a month ago. In the past week, the number of intensive care patients has more than doubled while the count of dead has nearly tripled.

Regionally, the cases also continue to grow. Le Sueur County is no longer atop the south central Minnesota list, as Blue Earth County has now jumped to 22 confirmed cases; Le Sueur county has 20 cases confirmed as of Tuesday's report. Elsewhere in the south central region, Rice County has four confirmed cases; Steele County eight; Nicollet County four; Waseca County three; Goodhue County 12; Sibley County one; and Scott County 16.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz said there were “pretty strong indications” that state efforts to keep people publicly distanced was helping manage the disease’s spread so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system.

He also noted the difficulty of people staying apart as major religious holidays approach. "I know this is very challenging.”

Listen to the call here at 2 p.m.

Walz is expected to decide by Wednesday whether to renew the state’s stay-at-home order. But as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to climb, the governor indicated at least some restrictions will continue after Friday.

Minnesota has one of the lowest per-capita coronavirus infection rates in the country; in just over half the state’s total cases, people have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

Walz, though, said leaders are still preparing for a surge of hospitalizations. "We might end up with more hospital beds than we needed, but that is a much better situation than winding up with too few,” he said.

Sixty-four of 87 Minnesota counties have at least one confirmed case. That now includes Roseau and Swift counties.

State officials have identified more than two dozen sites that could become makeshift hospitals and accommodate about 2,700 beds, Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management chief, said. He said he’s hoping to get some of those sites prepared soon.

Beyond the updates on cases and deaths, the Health Department Tuesday noted:

Among those who have died in Minnesota, ages run from 58 to 100. Of the four newly disclosed deaths, two were in Hennepin County with one each in Winona and Dakota counties.

More than one-third of COVID-19 cases are now considered to have originated from community spread, the greatest likely source of exposure to this point.

Martin County on the Minnesota-Iowa border continues to account for the largest number of cases outside of the Twin Cities metro area and Rochester. The county has seen 34 cases and four deaths.

Despite the bleak numbers, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said a key metric — Minnesota’s rate of doubling of COVID-19 cases — has slowed. Case counts were doubling every one or two days before March 18; now they are doubling very eight days.

Beyond the medical crisis, officials also continue to work through the steep economic problems the disease has triggered for household and state government budgets.

Steve Grove, commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the state’s received 355,108 applications for unemployment benefits — about 11.4 percent of Minnesota’s total labor force. Grove said his agency was getting about 800 calls an hour for help on Monday.

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Minnesota opens hotline to report bias tied to COVID-19

Minnesota has set up a hotline — 1-833-454-0148 — for people to report incidents of discrimination related to the COVID outbreak. People can also report bias tied to the pandemic using a form at the Department of Human Rights website.

Asian Americans in Minnesota and across the country say they've been subject to rising levels of discrimination during the pandemic given the early epicenter of the outbreak in China.

It's important to document these incidents, even if they don't rise to a level of a hate crime, said Bo Thao-Urabe, head of the Minnesota-based Coalition of Asian-American Leaders.

Officials still urge victims of hate crimes and violence to call the police. The FBI has warned of a likely surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

— MPR News Staff

Legislature back in session Tuesday for workers’ comp bill

The Minnesota Legislature will come into session Tuesday to vote on the latest bill tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill provides first responders and medical workers access to workers’ compensation payments if they contract COVID-19 and are unable to keep doing their jobs. It covers firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors and care providers in hospitals, clinics or other health settings. Correctional officers are also eligible.

If the Legislature passes the bill, it would take effect immediately.

Negotiations had been occurring for more than a week, and Gov. Tim Walz said he was prepared to extend the coverage through executive order if lawmakers couldn’t come to agreement.

But the deal struck over the weekend has the backing of DFL and Republican legislative leaders.

Lawmakers are expected to take precautions and keep Capitol attendance as low as possible during the session that starts at noon for the House and 2 p.m. for the Senate.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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