March 28 update on COVID-19 in Minnesota: Death toll now 5; stay-at-home order takes effect

A movie marquee reads "I assure you we're not open."
A pedestrian walks past a closed Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis on Saturday. Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order began at 11:59 p.m. Friday and will remain in place until April 10.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: 7:45 p.m.

A fifth person has died from COVID-19 in Minnesota, state health officials announced Saturday. Meanwhile the number of confirmed cases in the state increased to 441, up from 398 the day before.

The most recent death connected to COVID-19 was a person in their 70s in Hennepin County. The previous four deaths in Minnesota were people in their 80s, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday afternoon. Three had been living in group care facilities.

Two people have died in Ramsey County, two in Hennepin County and one in Martin County. State officials said all five had underlying medical conditions.

State and private labs in Minnesota have now tested more than 16,000 people, an increase of more than 14,000 on Friday.

Thirty people with COVID-19 were hospitalized on Saturday, down from 34 on Friday. Thirteen of the 30 still hospitalized were in intensive care.

Authorities said 220 people who had COVID-19 have recovered and no longer need to be isolated.

COVID-19 cases have now been confirmed in 41 counties across the state, with Hubbard County seeing its first confirmed case in Saturday's report from the state Department of Health.

Hennepin County has the most cases of any county in Minnesota, with 141, followed by Olmsted and Ramsey at 34 cases each, and Dakota with 28.

Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health, said Saturday that 20 “congregate care” facilities, such as assisted-living facilities, have had confirmed cases in Minnesota — 10 where a staff member tested positive, eight where a resident tested positive, and two where both staff and residents were affected.

Tim Walz
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signs a bill Saturday morning, allocating $330 million in COVID-19 aid passed by the state Legislature on March 26, in St. Paul. Walz is under a 14-day quarantine and is working from the Governor's Residence.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP, Pool

Meanwhile, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who is under a 14-day quarantine and is working from the Governor's Residence in St. Paul, signed a bill Saturday to provide $330 million in assistance. It was passed by the state Legislature earlier in the week. The state has now provided more than $550 million in aid.

Walz’s stay-at-home order, intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state, went into effect overnight and will remain in place until April 10.

Find more details on what the order includes and how it will affect your day-to-day activities here.

Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington issued a statement Friday, saying he had spoken with local law enforcement officials about the stay-at-home order. In a letter to law enforcement agencies across the state, he wrote that agencies should "seek to educate instead of taking an enforcement approach. We believe that officers can address any complaints of violations of the (executive order) on a case-by-case basis, beginning with an educational discussion rather than an enforcement action.”

Walz said Friday that the state has 1,268 adult ventilators on hand for intensive care cases and is working to secure more, believing they will be needed.

An empty hospital room.
A hospital room with a negative air pressure setup sits ready for a COVID-19 patient at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul on Thursday. The negative air pressure setup pulls air outdoors, rather than filtering back into the hospital.
Evan Frost | MPR News

As Minnesota continues to face limited COVID-19 testing supplies, officials are gathering other data that they're using to try to pinpoint how the pandemic is spreading across the state. Ehresmann said the state agency works with any person who tests positive for the virus.

"There's a case investigator, an epidemiologist, that contacts the individual, asks them questions about their potential exposures, about the symptoms that they're experiencing, and then also works with them to identify who their contacts may have been," she said.

The new numbers on cases and deaths come as officials continue to call on Minnesotans to stay home to help slow the disease’s spread. Restaurants remain takeout-only; public school buildings are shuttered now until early May.

Ehresmann reiterated Saturday that people should stay home, and that anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough, shortness of breath — should avoid contact with others for a minimum of seven days, and at least three days without symptoms.

"If you start to feel crummy on a given afternoon and kind of start to isolate yourself, and (even if) you wake up the next morning and you're right as rain -- better to do that, because we certainly want to minimize opportunities for transmission," she said.

Authorities said they would close vehicle services offices at the end of business Friday through April 10 to comply with Walz’s order. The state will extend expiration dates for licenses and permits set to expire in this period. Vehicle registration can be renewed online or by mail.

State emergency management director Joe Kelly on Friday asked Minnesotans not to call 911 with general coronavirus questions and instead contact the state hotline at (651) 201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Some 911 centers were being inundated with coronavirus calls, he said.

Case totals in neighboring states

While Minnesota stood at 441 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Saturday, Wisconsin had more than double that total — 989 cases, with 13 deaths. Wisconsin and Minnesota have tested roughly the same number of patients, according to state data.

To the south, Iowa reported 298 cases and three deaths.

To the west, South Dakota reported 68 confirmed cases and one death as of Saturday. North Dakota reported 83 confirmed cases and one death.

— MPR News staff

Digi-Key says it’s poised to help make ventilators

A northwestern Minnesota electronics distributor says it has the parts to help make thousands of low-cost ventilators to help meet an expected surge of patients desperately ill with COVID-19.

Digi-Key in Thief River Falls is partnering with the University of Minnesota on a low-cost, easy to build substitute for ventilators that will help hospital patients with the most difficulty breathing. The university built a prototype and Digi-Key has a computer-controlled motor that can make it run.

The university and the company are looking for more manufacturing and supply partners and federal approval in what state officials say may be a race against time as the coronavirus spreads and the need for critical care outstrips available hospital beds and life saving equipment.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

2 Minneapolis Red Cross workers quarantining after symptoms

The American Red Cross Minnesota said Friday that two of its Minneapolis blood donation center employees recently became ill with coronavirus symptoms.

The two workers experiencing the symptoms are self-quarantining at home; they both passed temperature screenings March 17 when they last worked, said local Red Cross spokesperson Sue Thesenga.

Four other employees who worked closely with the pair are also self-quarantining as a precaution, Thesenga said, adding that the Red Cross shut down and thoroughly cleaned the Minneapolis donation center, which reopened Wednesday.

The organization said it notified 19 donors of the situation and none have reported falling ill.

Regional Red Cross officials say they've had to cancel more than 300 blood drives in Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas since the coronavirus outbreak. Still, they continue to ask for blood donations.

Memorial Blood Centers, a Minnesota-based, independent nonprofit, says thanks to strong donations and the cancellation of elective surgeries, blood supplies are currently adequate, but they too are encouraging donations.

— Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

North Dakota reports first death linked to COVID-19

North Dakota health officials Friday reported the first confirmed death of a North Dakota resident due to COVID-19 — a man in his 90s from Cass County, home to Fargo, who had underlying health conditions and acquired the disease through community spread, meaning the source of infection was unknown, authorities said.

— MPR News staff

Thinking of heading to a cabin to wait out the coronavirus? Here are a few things to consider. With the state under a two-week stay-at-home order starting at midnight Friday, people who are feeling cooped up or just looking for a peaceful refuge to wait out the COVID-19 outbreak might be thinking of packing up and heading out of town for the next few weeks. Not so fast, say state officials.

Legislature backs COVID-19 rescue plan. The state House and Senate backed a $330 million bill to help head off some economic, health and spillover consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Capitol leaders saying more may follow.

St. Paul hospital quickly converted to COVID-19 aid. In a flurry of construction, most of it over 72 hours, Bethesda Hospital has become a specialty center for the most severe COVID-19 cases. The first patients may arrive from other M Health Fairview facilities beginning Thursday afternoon.

Shelters struggle to provide safety, distance. Homeless advocates in Minnesota, bracing for surging needs, are pleading for more state resources to help protect the vulnerable population in crowded shelters and emergency centers.

Minnesota schools are closed until early May — Here are 9 things you need to know: Many parents across the state are learning that it'll be another five weeks — at least — before they can send their kids back to school again. On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz ordered Minnesota schools to remain closed through until May 4 as the state grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are the top nine things you need to know about schools’ plans.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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