ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday, March 27, reported 52 new cases of the coronavirus in Minnesota and two new deaths, bringing the number of fatalities from the illness to four.
All four Minnesotans to perish from the illness so far were residents in their 80s. The three of the deaths — including the two reported on Friday — were in long term care centers, state health officials said.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported at 17 congregate care centers, state Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said, with some including clusters of as many as four cases in one center.
"We anticipate that with COVID-19 in the community, that is what can bring it into these communities and that is why as painful as it is to make the recommendation, we’re saying no visitors," Ehresmann said.
The state takes immediate action to evaluate the potential transmission to other staff or residents when a case is reported at a congregated care site, and families of those in the facility as well as staff are notified of the cases and of efforts to limit the spread, Ehresmann said. And health officials are working to place additional personal protective equipment in the facilities where it is reported.
Minnesota has now tallied 398 confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of 14,003 tests processed so far. And health officials say the total is an undercount as tests are limited. Statewide, 34 patients are hospitalized for coronavirus, and 14 were in an ICU setting. To date, 180 have recovered from COVID-19 in Minnesota and no longer need to be isolated.
State health officials said the death toll is reported based on those confirmed to have COVID-19 and they said they would begin tracking death certificates that list the illness as a cause of death to update that figure.
“I know there will be more deaths and it’s agonizing," Gov. Tim Walz said.
A stay at home order was hours away from taking effect statewide Friday as health and safety officials rushed to build up more intensive care unit bed space ahead of a projected peak in cases.
An executive order that Walz issued Wednesday was set to take effect Friday at 11:59 p.m. requiring all non-exempt Minnesotans to stay home except for essential services. That order is set to remain in effect for at least two weeks.
Walz has said he doesn't want Minnesotans to be arrested or ticketed under the order if they decide to congregate or travel for "non-essential" purposes but instead hopes people will abide by the latest restriction on social gathering. The governor has said the order is needed to give the state time to build up bed space for those projected to become critically ill.
Minnesotans likely wouldn't have to worry about law enforcement intervention unless they were intentionally violating the order by gathering a large group in a manner that posed "a threat to the public peace, health, safety or general welfare."
In guidance to law enforcement officers on Friday, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said officers shouldn't pull people over just because they appear to be violating the stay at home order and said most would just need a warning. Those who "refuse to, or fail to comply with the officer's attempts to gain compliance" could be subject to a misdemeanor citation. Those who violate the order twice may be subject to up to $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail.
Days before the order was set to take effect, Minnesotans called 911 with questions, jamming the lines when others had emergencies to report, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly said. Kelly recommended that those who still have questions call the state emergency hotline.
State projections show that 2 million Minnesotans will likely contract COVID-19, most with mild symptoms and as many as 300,000 could require hospitalization over the course of the disease's spread. And 100,000 of those hospitalized are projected to require intensive care to fight off the disease, computer models of COVID-19 impact in other states and countries, show. At peak infection, 50,000 would require hospitalization and 5,000 would need ICU care, state health modeling projects.
Without any mitigation efforts in the state, 74,000 people could be expected to die of the illness, state models show. But Minnesota has taken actions to mitigate social interactions and potential spread by closing schools, restaurants and other businesses, likely decreasing the number that could perish from COVID-19.
State officials have not yet shared publicly the number of Minnesotans they expect could die with the current mitigation measures and with the stay at home order set to take effect. They said Friday that models reflected those efforts would likely become available in the coming days.
The state's model forecasted that at current transmission rates and health care capacity variables, ICU beds in the state could fill up within 11 weeks, three weeks before a projected peak for infections was set to materialize statewide. Walz's stay at home order aims to slow the timeline, pushing the statewide peak from late April to mid-August.
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MDH COVID-19 hotline: (651) 201-3920.
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MDH COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.