Number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota grows to 21

Samples are tested for COVID-19.
Samples are tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday at the Minnesota Department of Health.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Health

Updated: 4:05 p.m.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Saturday reported that 21 Minnesotans have now tested positive for COVID-19, up from 14 on Friday.

Renville County in western Minnesota now has a positive test for COVID-19.

Other counties with presumptive confirmed cases as of Saturday are Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Stearns and Wright, the state Health Department reported.

The health department said about 868 people have been tested so far in Minnesota.

The latest cases include:

  • three people in Hennepin County — two in their 60s and one in their 30s.

  • one person each in Dakota (teens), Ramsey (30s), Stearns (60s) and Renville (30s) counties.

Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health, said Saturday that investigations of the new cases continue, but so far "the cases have had a clear link to someone with confirmed COVID-19, or a travel history domestic or international."

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Health officials said all seven are at home, and haven’t required hospitalization.

Coronavirus has prompted a wave of event cancellations and facility closures across Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz moved Friday to limit gatherings in Minnesota to fewer than 250 people and declared a “peacetime emergency” to heighten the state’s readiness to respond to COVID-19.

The event-size cap isn’t the kind of strict ban being ordered in some other states. Rather, it is being couched as recommended guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health. It applies to things such as church services, youth sports events, business conferences and other gatherings.

“This is about reducing a pandemic in society,” Walz told reporters as he announced the measures. “We're not going to have people out there writing tickets" to groups of more than 250 people, but “Minnesotans … need to be prepared for some significant disruptions” over the next few months.

Officials also recommended canceling or postponing events of fewer than 250 held in venues where close contact (within 6 feet) is unavoidable.

Ehresmann said officials are asking Minnesotans to use good judgment and stay home if they are sick.

She said officials are “not asking malls to close” or saying “you can't go to the grocery store” or to a birthday party.

The teenager from Dakota County is the youngest patient so far, but it isn’t changing the state’s decision not to mandate widespread school closures, as Wisconsin did on Friday.

"From a purely epidemiological standpoint, closing schools for COVID-19 is not considered a real effective strategy of community mitigation," said Dan Huff, an assistant commissioner with the health department. He said experts are continuing to weigh the issue.

Health officials said none of the state’s 21 cases so far have been among K-12 students or staff -- although one attended the University of Minnesota.

Officials also addressed continued questions about testing, an increasing focus of public attention in Minnesota and nationally.

Ehresmann said that demand for tests is spiking as public concern over the outbreak picks up. And although she said all of Minnesota’s cases have been tied to travel or directly linked to previous cases, the state is casting a wider net to monitor the spread of coronavirus.

"We’re focusing on that group — however, providers have had the discretion to test others," she said. "We’ve had plenty of other people, without travel, (tested) as well."

Ehresmann noted that more commercial labs are starting to offer testing, and the state is encouraging health care providers to use those options as well.

Also on Saturday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s office said he sent a letter to vice president Mike Pence asking for more coronavirus tests and testing supplies, to a minimum of 15,000 per month. He also asked for federal officials to approve the use of research-only supplies of chemicals for testing use.

Walz told the vice president that the state was otherwise being forced to ration and potentially halt the tests. Health officials said Saturday that they had not yet received any response from the White House.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of victims recover.

The state hotline for COVID-19 information received more than 1,700 calls on Friday; officials have expanded the hours to meet demand. The hotline — 651-201-3920 — will now be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

Wisconsin COVID-19 cases rise to 27

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wisconsin jumped to 27 on Saturday, and Milwaukee County shut down its zoo to try to stem the spread of the pandemic.

Wisconsin health officials on Saturday reported eight new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that includes four new cases in Milwaukee County. Winnebago County also reported its first case. Two more cases were reported in Waukesha County and another in Dane County.

Milwaukee County officials announced they were closing the Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee County Parks facilities, including the Mitchell Park Domes, and the county's senior centers.

On Friday, Gov. Tony Evers ordered all of Wisconsin's K-12 schools to close by the coming week. The move will affect nearly a million students and their families for at least the next several weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.