Meals on the bus

Lori Musial (center) helps load meals on a bus to be delivered to students Monday at North High School in North St. Paul. Schools have temporarily closed amid the COVID-19 outbreak to prepare for distance learning.  (Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News)

Minnesota had 262 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, up from 235 Monday. The state continued to report only one death from the disease.

Fifteen patients are currently hospitalized out of a total of 25 since the pandemic reached the state; 88 patients who tested positive no longer need to be isolated, according to the state Health Department. Across Minnesota, hospitals are racing now to prepare for an expected spike in patient care as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads.

Minnesota has 243 adult intensive care beds available with seven people currently in the ICU, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday, and that's why it's critical people continue taking measures aimed at “bending the curve.” Walz also said preventative actions so far have slowed infection rates in Minnesota and dampened a potential spike, but cautioned that more waves of coronavirus cases will come and that continued mitigation efforts will need to last months.

Walz is planning to extend the order closing bars and other businesses while restricting restaurants to take-out only. The current closure requirements run until March 27.

Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management director, said officials are talking about the possibility of "alternative health care facilities" and said they're working through possibilities such as setting up facilities in a motel or basketball gym.

"We're in good shape now but we need to be prepared to expand that system very quickly,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Minnesota Hospital Association said it was pulling together plans to gather medical masks and inventory ventilators.

A Twin Cities team is working “to collect and get a visual on where this equipment is, where it should be warehoused, who needs it most and how to distribute it,” said Dr. Rahul Koranne, the hospital association president. “A lot is going on and we are actively preparing day and night.”

Koranne said it was too early to tell whether cases in Minnesota will exceed hospitals capacity to care for critically ill patients. He urged people to avoid personal contact to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Other updates Tuesday:

  • Minnesotans claims for unemployment insurance continue to soar following the closure of many restaurants and other businesses because of the coronavirus outbreak.

  • The system that lists homes for sale in Minnesota and helps connect real estate agents, buyers and sellers has stopped scheduling open houses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Science Museum of Minnesota said Tuesday they would temporarily lay off much of their staff and remain closed given the financial crisis driven by the coronavirus.

  • 16 health centers in Minnesota will share $1 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

  • 3M said it is turning to Ford Motor Co. to help ramp up production of some of its personal protection equipment for medical professionals.

Minnesota officials continue to be concerned that community spread is happening throughout the state.

They project between 40 and 80 percent of Minnesotans will be infected with COVID-19 before the pandemic lets up, Walz said Monday, as he considered more aggressive measures to curb the new coronavirus' spread.

While the "vast majority" of those cases would be mild, Walz said, he is still considering a shelter-in-place order for the state. If enacted, he said its duration would “probably have to be more like multiple weeks to months."

Asked Monday about whether Minnesota would cancel school for the year, Walz said: "As the situation evolves it may become necessary to do that." For now, he wants virtual and distance learning to take root.

Public health officials continue to say the number of Minnesotans with COVID-19 is actually much higher than the reported number because testing remains limited to the highest-risk patients.

On Monday, the governor and other state leaders made several other announcements concerning the COVID-19 outbreak and the government's response:

  • A small-business loan program beginning later this week could make up to 5,000 businesses eligible for loans between $2,500 and $35,000.

  • Walz's revised budget request seeks an additional $356 million for coronavirus response.

  • Elective veterinary services are halted to preserve the stock of personal protective equipment, or PPEs.

  • The National Guard will disperse PPEs from Camp Ripley as officials develop a centralized system to manage Minnesota’s stock of the supplies.

Officials pleaded with Minnesotans to stay home whenever possible, limit contact with others and wash their hands often.

"We should assume that [COVID-19 is] in all of our communities," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday.

Minnesota nurses seek donations of N95 protective masks

Nurses report they are extremely short on masks to shield them from the novel coronavirus and other threats. They’re asking people with N95 masks to donate them.

Carrie Mortrud of the Minnesota Nurses Association said a nurse may normally use several masks during a shift but some are now asked to use the same mask for a week.

“Some nurses at some hospitals across the state are being told they have to use them for five shifts. From Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday to Friday,” Mortrud said.

Masks will be collected from noon to 2 p.m. through Sunday at the Minnesota Nurses Association Office at 345 Randolph Ave. in St. Paul. The masks will be passed on to the State Emergency Operations Center to distribute to nurses.

The association said as of Monday afternoon, it has collected more than 30,000 masks.

— Martin Moylan | MPR News

Metro Transit to reduce bus, rail services by 40 percent

Metro Transit says it is cutting back on its daily service schedule in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Starting Wednesday, all Metro Transit bus routes will operate at Saturday service levels throughout the day except for overnight hours from 11 p.m. through 4:30 a.m. when no bus and train service is provided. Blue and Green Line trains will run every 20 minutes.

The Northstar commuter rail line will run on a reduced schedule, with two inbound trips to Minneapolis on weekday mornings and two outbound trips on weekday afternoons. Express bus service will also be limited during the time.

More information is available on the Metro Transit’s website.

— MPR News staff

Flanagan says her brother has died after getting coronavirus

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said her brother Ron Golden has died after contracting COVID-19.

In an Instagram post late Sunday, Flanagan said her brother, who lived in Tennessee, received a cancer diagnosis some weeks ago. After getting COVID-19, he was placed on a ventilator and a medically induced coma.

Flanagan said her brother's death underlines the importance of people staying home. In the post she wrote "please consider the possibility that you are carrying the virus and don't know it, and then you walk by the next Ron, my big brother, in public."

— Euan Kerr | MPR News

Klobuchar’s husband hospitalized with coronavirus

Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar acknowledged in a Monday social media post that her husband, John Bessler, has the coronavirus.

“He kept having a temperature and a bad, bad cough and when he started coughing up blood he got a test and a chest X-ray and they checked him into a hospital in Virginia because of a variety of things including very low oxygen levels which haven’t really improved,” she wrote. “He now has pneumonia and is on oxygen but not a ventilator.

Klobuchar said because she and John have been in different locations the past two weeks, “I am outside the 14-day period for getting sick, my doctor has advised me to not get a test. As everyone is aware, there are test shortages for people who need them everywhere and I don’t qualify to get one under any standard.”

— MPR News staff

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.

© 2019 Minnesota Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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