Latest on COVID-19 in Minnesota: 54 confirmed cases, events with 50+ people should be canceled

Troy Dobbs speaks to empty pews.
Troy Dobbs, senior pastor, speaks in front of empty pews after Grace Church Eden Prairie decided to present worship music and the sermon to an estimated 3,500 viewers online Sunday.
Adam Bettcher | Getty Images

Updated: 5:09 p.m.

The Minnesota Department of Health said Monday that events with 50 or more people in attendance should be canceled in accordance with updated guidelines from the CDC.

As the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 grow, governments on the city, county and state levels are adjusting their operations to support public health officials’ pleas that people stay home.

Here are the latest developments in Minnesota as of Monday, March 16:

  • Confirmed cases rising: State health officials announced 54 positive coronavirus cases Monday, up from 35 on Sunday. While at least 13 counties have reported cases — Anoka, Benton, Blue Earth, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Stearns, Waseca, Washington, Wright — most of them are in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Nearly 1,900 people have been tested, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

  • Confirmed case details: The additional 19 cases announced Monday include 10 in Hennepin County. Dakota, Ramsey, Olmsted, Washington, Blue Earth, Anoka and Benton counties each had one or two additional cases. All of the new cases were outpatient cases. Three people in Minnesota remain hospitalized with COVID-19, with one in critical condition. No deaths have been recorded yet in Minnesota.

  • Hospitals and health care workers prioritized for testing: The Minnesota Department of Health says because of the limited number of tests available, people in hospitals and health care workers are being prioritized by testing because a positive test could have serious implications.

  • Community spread: Over the weekend, health officials also marked a milestone in the virus’ movement, identifying the state’s first three cases of community transmission. Community spread has occurred in Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota counties. Health officials said events with 50 or more people should be canceled.

  • State of emergency; schools temporarily closed: Gov. Tim Walz announced a temporary closure of K-12 public schools in the state. The governor has also declared a “peacetime emergency” to heighten the state’s readiness to respond to COVID-19.

  • Hospital visits limited: Mayo Clinic, Essentia Health and other major hospitals in the state are limiting patients' visitors and temporarily adjusting their visitor policies.

  • Electricity shutoffs postponed: Utilities in the state have announced adjustments to their shutoff policies. Xcel Energy, the largest power company in the state, announced it will not disconnect residential customers’ electric or natural gas service until further notice. CenterPoint Energy also said on Monday that it’s temporarily suspending disconnections of natural gas service due to nonpayment.

  • Legislature on pause: The Minnesota Legislature is scaling back its operations. Leaders announced Sunday night that they're planning to effectively recess the legislative session for up to a month, coming in only on an as-needed basis to pass legislation related to the coronavirus situation.

  • Cities adjusting: Across the state, local governments and public health officials have adjusted their operations.

    St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter declared a state of local emergency over the weekend, closing city libraries and recreation facilities, and refusing to issue any new permits for gatherings of 50 or more people.

    Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Monday declared a local state of emergency to limit access to some entertainment venues and restaurants starting Tuesday. The City Council is set to vote on the declaration during a special meeting on Thursday.

  • No overnight Metro Transit bus, light rail: Starting Tuesday, Metro Transit is temporarily suspending its bus and light rail service from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Besides emphasizing that gatherings should be limited, state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said during a briefing on Monday that testing for COVID-19 remains limited in the state. She said with such high demand for testing, the health department is prioritizing hospitals and health care workers.

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“As we see more and more cases, we really need to start focusing where our energies are in a manner that will best support the health care system,” Ehresmann said.

She said it can take up to 72 hours for the health department to get a result after receiving a sample.

When asked if the state’s health system is prepared for a major uptick in cases, Ehresmann acknowledged the situation “is very unprecedented.”

“I think that despite all that planning and preparedness, it’s likely that we will have challenges,” she said. “There are many things we’re dealing with that we have not dealt with in the past.”

At a news conference Monday morning, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said all city buildings will be closed to the public, starting Tuesday. City officials said the government’s key services will continue, with some modifications.

While all of Minnesota’s confirmed cases are located in the southern half of the state — and none so far in the city of Duluth — city officials, from public safety to transportation to education, said the measures are meant to blunt the impact of the highly contagious disease.

“I think, as always in the history of public safety, when things get tough, we step up,” Police Chief Mike Tusken said.

Officials continue to emphasize frequent hand-washing, disinfecting of surfaces and social distancing as ways to mitigate the spread of the virus. Many employers across the state are encouraging their staffs to work from home, major events are being canceled and some restaurants are closing or shifting to a delivery and takeout model for the time being.