Minnesota officials reported 94 deaths tied to COVID-19, up seven from Wednesday. Hospitalizations are up, and the number of people in intensive care units rose to 103, up 10 from Wednesday.
The Health Department reported 1,912 positive tests for the disease since the pandemic began, up about 100 from Wednesday. More than half of those who’ve tested positive so far have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
In south central Minnesota, Le Sueur County and Blue Earth County have the most confirmed cases, with 22 each. Elsewhere in the south central region, Rice County has six confirmed cases; Steele County nine; Nicollet County seven; Waseca County three; Goodhue County 17; Sibley County one; and Scott County 20.
The new numbers come a day after Gov. Tim Walz said Minnesota would need a drastic increase in COVID-19 testing in the next three weeks in order to begin safely reopening the state's economy.
The governor said Wednesday he's pushing for 5,000 tests a day by May 4, when his stay-at-home order expires. The state has averaged about 1,100 tests in the first days of this week. Logistical issues and an initial belief the federal government would take command of testing had delayed the process, Walz said, but now Minnesota must "go it alone."
There may be some hope on that front. University of Minnesota researchers said Thursday they have a way to solve the state’s testing shortage and dramatically expand testing statewide for COVID-19 and antibody resistance. The U is seeking $20 million from lawmakers to implement the plan.
State officials also said they're making headway on addressing shortages of masks and personal protection gear for health workers. They said the stay-at-home order and other measures pushed back the expected peak of hospitalizations, buying time for them to source and stockpile equipment.
However, political rifts continued to grow between DFLers, including Walz, and Republican lawmakers.
Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt this week argued that the state needed to tailor restrictions to those at higher risk and "allow the rest of us to go back to work." Walz reiterated Wednesday he also wants to get people back to their jobs but “you can’t just say you want to restart” the economy.
Citing the recent shutdown of the Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., near the Minnesota border, amid a COVID-19 outbreak, Walz said, "it does us no good to send everybody back to work and get everybody sick.”
Noting that Minnesota has the lowest infection rate in the country, Walz said Minnesotan’s efforts over the past month to keep people home and out of crowded public spaces was working to check the disease.
“All of this sacrifice that we made,” he cautioned, “could be eaten up very quickly.”
Historical Society closes sites and museums through June 30, announces furloughs
The Minnesota Historical Society says it will keep its sites and other facilities closed to the public through June 30.
It will also furlough almost half its staff on May 1 through the same date.
In a news release, director and CEO Kent Whitworth described the furlough decision as painful. The 274 affected staff members will be paid through the end of April, with health benefits coverage remaining in place through the furlough.
— Euan Kerr | MPR News
House Speaker says deal reached on to-go liquor sales with takeout
Minnesota Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman says lawmakers have a deal on a bill allowing to-go liquor sales from restaurants.
The bill will allow restaurants that already have a qualifying liquor license to sell as much as a six-pack of beer or a regular-sized bottle of wine in conjunction with a food takeout order. The beer and wine have to be in their original sealed containers.
The measure requires age verification and a notification of a restaurant’s insurance carrier. It also allows a city to prohibit the practice.
The measure is one of the changes sought by the hospitality industry to help adjust to the state’s COVID-19 shutdown order. It would expire when the shutdown ends.
The House and Senate may vote on the proposal yet this week.
— Tim Nelson | MPR News
Mother of AG Keith Ellison dies from COVID-19 complications
The mother of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has died of COVID-19. Clida Cora Ellison died March 26 in Detroit. She was 82.
Minneapolis City Council member Jeremiah Ellison said his grandmother had been healthy, but developed pneumonia suddenly and spent her final days on a ventilator. Ellison said he learned that COVID-19 was the cause only recently.
Only three people could go to the burial, and social distancing limited who could attend the funeral. Ellison said it was too dangerous for his 91-year-old grandfather to go.
"The risk of moving him around in Detroit was too great for him to attend,” the Minneapolis council member said, “and I know that he has had a hard time dealing with the fact that he couldn't attend."
Clida Ellison earned a master's degree in social work at age 57. She spent two decades counseling young people in Detroit's juvenile justice system.
— Matt Sepic | MPR News
MN State University Moorhead eliminates jobs, majors amid pandemic
Minnesota State University Moorhead announced Wednesday the school plans to eliminate more than 60 faculty, staff and administrative jobs to address a budget shortfall over the next two fiscal years.
Ten academic majors currently serving 175 students will also be suspended or eliminated.
President Anne Blackhurst said as revenue for higher education shrinks, the university needs to be more focused. The schools faces a projected $6 million shortfall in fiscal year 2022.
"In this environment, I think the only way to invest where we need to invest is by being clear about what we're going to stop doing so that we can make those investments,” Blackhurst said.
University officials say the cuts are not a direct result of shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but acknowledged that the pandemic has created additional issues for the university's already challenging budget. Minnesota State University Moorhead has about 6,000 students.
— Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Boundary Waters to be closed until early May
U.S. Forest Service officials announced they are closing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to visitors to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The BWCA will be closed to both day and overnight visitors through May 4.
Officials say they're closing the wilderness to keep visitors out of local communities while Minnesota's stay-at-home order is in place.
The Forest Service says it will refund reservations through May 4. Starting May 5, visitors to the BWCA can print their reservation confirmation email at home and use that as their permit.
Forest Service offices are currently closed to the public.
Bill Forsberg, who runs Boundary Waters Outfitters and Timber Trail Lodge outside Ely, Minn., said the closure won't have much impact on his business.
“My customers are calling me every single day wanting to know what's going on, and I have nothing to tell them other than sit tight. I have to assume we're going to be open,” he said. "Where it would become impactful is if the governor extends this beyond fishing opener, then that's when we need to figure out what we're going to do.”
Minnesota's walleye season opens May 9. Isle Royale National Park and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore have also announced they will delay their openings until mid-June.
— Dan Kraker | MPR News