Virus Outbreak Minnesota

Shopper Merlin Smith, 82, of Edina navigates the aisles of Lunds and Byerlys during an early morning hour devoted to older shoppers and shoppers with health conditions Thursday in Edina, Minn. Smith was also shopping for his wife who has heart issues and was home. Some supermarket retailers across the world and Twin Cities are creating an early bird shopping time from 7-8 a.m. for older shoppers to protect them from COVID-19 and coronavirus. (Merlin Smith/Star Tribune via AP)

State health officials Saturday announced the first death in Minnesota linked to COVID-19.

The death occurred Thursday. State officials said it was a Ramsey County resident in their 80s who had recently tested positive for COVID-19, and was the contact of an earlier confirmed case.

“Gwen and I extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones during this time of loss,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a news release. “As COVID-19 continues to spread in Minnesota, we must all do what we can to keep each other safe.”

The daily update from the Minnesota Department of Health reported 138 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state on Saturday, up from 115 on Friday.

That includes the first confirmed case in St. Louis County. County officials said the patient "is a woman in her late 60s who is currently recovering at home. Her infection is linked to domestic travel, and not the result of community transmission."

“At this point, there has been no request for the county to provide any essential services," Amy Westbrook, St. Louis County Public Health Division Director, said in a news release. "It is believed she has had no contact with anyone outside her family. Close contacts have been asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days from their exposure date and will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms."

Other counties reporting their first cases on Saturday were Wabasha, Jackson and Steele, in southern Minnesota.

Steele County officials said the two cases reported were "a person in their 40s and a person in their 50s with apparent transmission (from) traveling to other states ... These patients are in isolation at home and recovering."

The vast majority of cases in Minnesota have been in the Twin Cities metro area, with 52 confirmed cases in Hennepin County and 17 in Ramsey County.

However, health officials said the actual number of coronavirus cases statewide is much higher — they’ve completed 4,090 tests, rationing them to the most vulnerable people, amid a national shortage of supplies.

State leaders continued pleading with the public to practice social distancing and to stay home whenever, especially if feeling sick.

“The measures that each individual can do are really the front line and most effective thing we can do to flatten that curve and stop COVID-19 from having the impact on our country that would be devastating,” Walz said in a Friday news conference.

There were nearly 1,300 frozen samples awaiting coronavirus testing on Friday. Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said people with symptoms — which include a fever and cough — should manage them at home if they’re able. “It is not necessary to have a COVID-19 diagnosis,” she said.

People who are sick and still choose to go out in public “are undermining all we as a community are trying to accomplish" with mitigation efforts, she said.

California, New York and Illinois have ordered residents to stay home except for vital reasons. Walz Friday said he’s not ready to issue such a shelter-in-place order, but that could change at any moment as new information comes in.

Nationwide, there have been more than 15,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 201 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control data from Friday. Twenty-one Minnesota counties spanning the state have confirmed COVID-19 cases, but there haven’t been any coronavirus-related deaths confirmed in Minnesota.

Other updates from state leaders:

The Health Department is working to model how many intensive care beds and ventilators Minnesota has vs. how many could become necessary in the outbreak.

More than 95,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits this week, Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said. About 85 percent of them had never applied for unemployment benefits before, he said, and a third are from restaurant, bar or entertainment workers.

Walz has asked President Trump for permission to activate the Minnesota National Guard under a law that has the federal government paying the bills.

State lawmakers say they will meet in session again when necessary to pass legislation related to the state’s COVID-19 response. So far, nothing is scheduled. Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka says he believes senators will need to vote in person and they have a plan for keeping people safe while voting.

Minneapolis Mayor Frey signs new paid leave policies for city employees

Mayor Jacob Frey on Friday signed two city emergency regulations to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and its impact on businesses. Under the new policy, the city’s full-time emergency responders, such as public safety, fire, law enforcement and emergency medical employees, will be granted up to 80 hours of additional paid leave related to COVID-19 until April 18.

Frey also signed another regulation to temporarily suspend renewal fees for liquor, wine and beer licenses in Minneapolis.

— Jiwon Choi | MPR News

Minnesota to shift funding from congregate site meals to home delivery for senior citizens

The Minnesota Board on Aging said Friday it is allowing flexibility to shift funding from congregate site meals to home delivery. A spokesperson said the board is also seeking greater flexibility from the federal government in the use of funds for senior nutrition programs.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

The Y expands child care for school-age children of essential workers in Minnesota

Starting Monday, 38 Y locations in Minnesota will be open for children in kindergarten through sixth grade while schools are shuttered due to the coronavirus outbreak. Minnesota's list of essential workers has been expanded to include grocery store workers, teachers, utility workers and child-care educators themselves.

Gov. Walz said on Friday that partnership with the Y was needed because some school districts were not able to accommodate families who qualified for the care.

— Laura Yuen | MPR News

3M, Medtronic ramping up production of equipment, materials to fight COVID-19

The medical device maker says it has increased ventilator production by more than 40 percent so far and is on track to more than double its ventilator manufacturing capacity. High-performance ventilators are critical in the care of patients with severe respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19, that impair breathing.

Meanwhile, 3M has doubled its worldwide production of N95 respirators to nearly 100 million a month. The company hopes to further boost manufacture of the protective masks by over 30 percent over the next year. 3M is also maximizing production of a wide range of other products, including hand sanitizers, disinfectants and filtration products.

High-performance ventilators are critical in the care of patients with severe respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19, that impair breathing. A ventilator allows a patient’s lungs to rest and recover while the ventilator supplies oxygen and simulates the actions of breathing. Without a ventilator, some people with severe respiratory disease may die.

— Martin Moylan | MPR News

Coronavirus forces pregnant women to change birth plans

As the number of COVID-19 cases mounts in Minnesota, pregnant women and their medical teams are scrambling to adjust their plans for prenatal care, labor and delivery and postpartum follow-up.

The changes come with their own share of stress and uncertainty.

Amid COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses try to find new ways to stay afloat

With the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus, small businesses have taken a huge hit with Gov. Tim Walz temorarily halting dine in services, and many other stores have closed for the time being. From curbside pickup to free local delivery, workers and owners of small businesses across Minnesota have come up with some creative, unprecedented ways to cope with the new reality.

Senior meal plans adjust, add deliveries as centers close amid COVID-19

Organizations across the state that provide meals for senior citizens are scrambling as places where people gather for meals are shutting down and there’s more need for home delivery.

Demand is now increasing as the pandemic grows, and many are concerned the organizations that provide those meals are going to need community support

Testing shortages make it tough for health officials to understand COVID-19 spread

In response to a shortage of testing supplies nationwide, Minnesota earlier this week said it would prioritize hospitalized patients, health care workers and those living or working in places like nursing homes and long-term care facilities for COVID-19 testing. The move — and shortage of testing supplies overall — creates immense challenges for public health officials as they work to understand how widespread the virus is in Minnesota — and try to prevent its spread.

“In an ideal world, that’s why we would like to see more testing. It does give us more information about the spread, more data to understand what’s happening,” said Bonnie Brueshoff, public health director for Dakota County, where seven positive cases have been identified. “But meanwhile, the reality we are living in is that testing has to be limited because there’s not enough.”

Health officials for weeks have been increasingly raising the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. The disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

The state of Minnesota has temporarily closed schools, while administrators work to determine next steps, and is requiring a temporary closure of all in-person dining at restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as theaters, gyms, yoga studios and other spaces in which people congregate in close proximity.

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