COVID-19 Latest June 15

A sign directs people toward COVID-19 testing at the National Guard Armory in Minneapolis on May 23, 2020. (Evan Frost/MPR News file)

Minnesota’s COVID-19 toll continued to show signs of plateauing as the state Health Department reported nine more deaths while the number of people currently hospitalized (357) and needing intensive care (185) remained roughly stable from Monday.

Total deaths in the pandemic climbed to 1,313. Tuesday, however, marked the first time since mid-April that the department reported two consecutive days where deaths stayed in the single digits.

Intensive care cases — a closely watched measure of how Minnesota is handling the spread — are at their lowest in more than a month.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 697, including three deaths. Steele County is next with 175 confirmed and no deaths, while Blue Earth County has 164 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 52 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 95 confirmed and 11 deaths; Waseca County 34 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 94 confirmed and seven deaths; Brown County 20 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 25 confirmed and two deaths.

Public Health officials in Rice County noted that at least part of the higher number of cases in that county can be attributed to a higher rate of testing. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, officials said.

In Nicollet County, the death toll is higher due to impact on the elderly community. At least one assisted living facility in the county reported a couple dozen cases, though it did not report the number of deaths from its facility. All deaths in the county have been residents in their 80s or 90s.

The newest counts come a day after state health officials posted guidelines aimed at letting people see their loved ones in congregate-care facilities.

The guidance states that window visits may be appropriate under some circumstances, though the state says they may confuse some patients with dementia. The policy also encourages mask-wearing and at least 6 feet of distance between the patient and their family member if the windows are open.

The Health Department is also developing guidelines for outdoor visits.

Officials continue to implore Minnesotans to continue wearing masks in public spaces and keep social distancing. People who feel flu-like symptoms should get tested and people who feel ill should stay home.

Overall, nearly 31,000 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19. About 87 percent of those confirmed with the disease have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Among those who’ve died in the pandemic, some 80 percent were residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities, nearly all had underlying health problems.

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 661 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. That puts Mower County second to Nobles County in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors, both of which say they’re partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing. Quality Pork Producers has at least 90 employees with active cases, and 100 more who have recovered.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

In southwestern Minnesota, Nobles County reported 1,620 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. Roughly 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although there have been no increases the past few days.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since partially reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May.

An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Tuesday, confirmed cases were at 2,109 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.

As of Tuesday, the Health Department reported 548 people have now tested positive in the county.

K-12 academic year plans expected by late July

Schools will get state guidance by late July on how to plan for the upcoming academic year, the Minnesota Department of Education says.

Schools need months to hire staff, register students and plan for all the details of starting the upcoming school year. But state officials say they will not release guidance on what form the 2020-2021 academic year will take until the week of July 27.

At the moment, officials have told school districts and charter schools to plan for three possible scenarios in the fall:

1) All children return to school buildings and in-person classes.

2) No children return to school buildings for in-person classes. Instead, all students will engage in distance learning.

3) Employ a hybrid of these two options with both in-person classes and distance learning.

State officials say they will give districts guidance on planning for the three scenarios starting this week.

Early results show low COVID-19 rate among Floyd protesters

Pop-up coronavirus testing sites around the Twin Cities have taken samples from more than 3,000 people who attended mass gatherings in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing.

State Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm says that the state has received about 1,300 test results back, and they show a 1.4 percent positivity rate.

Malcolm said people who don't have symptoms can get tested, and the tests are free.

"If you were involved in any of the mass gatherings — the protests, the vigils, the neighborhood cleanups, providing food, water, etc. — we really encourage you to get free testing at one of these community sites,” Malcolm said.

While that positivity rate is so far relatively low, health officials say it's too soon to tell if the protests will be the source of widespread community transmission.

Four sites were open on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, and will be open those days in coming weeks as well.

  • The Holy Trinity Church on East Lake Street in Minneapolis
  • The Sabathani Community Center on East 38th Street in Minneapolis
  • The New Salem Baptist Church on Bryant Avenue North in Minneapolis
  • The Jimmy Lee Recreation Center on Lexington Parkway in St. Paul

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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