March 29 update on COVID-19 in Minnesota: Death toll rises to 9

A pedestrian walks down a quiet street.
With many businesses closed, Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis' Uptown is quiet on Saturday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: 2:50 p.m.

The confirmed COVID-19 death toll in Minnesota climbed to nine on Sunday, as the overall tally of confirmed cases increased to 503.

That’s up from five deaths and 441 cases on Saturday.

The four new deaths included three in Hennepin County — one person in their 50s with underlying medical conditions, and two others in their 80s or 90s. All three had connections to long-term care facilities.

The fourth was in southern Minnesota's Martin County; that person also was in their 80s or 90s but was not linked to a long-term care facility.

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State officials said the five previously reported deaths linked to COVID-19 were people in their 70s and 80s with underlying medical conditions. Three had been living in group care facilities.

There now have been five confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Hennepin County, and two each in Ramsey and Martin counties.

Authorities said 252 people who had COVID-19 have recovered and no longer need to be isolated.

COVID-19 cases have now been confirmed in 45 counties across the state, with Clearwater, Otter Tail, Douglas and Isanti counties reporting their first confirmed cases on Sunday. A case that had been reported in Hubbard County on Saturday was removed from the state tally on Sunday. Officials have warned that coronavirus is more widespread in Minnesota than indicated by testing, given the limited supply of tests.

Hennepin County has the most cases of any county in Minnesota, with 171, followed by Olmsted at 47, Ramsey with 46 and Dakota with 39. Other counties reporting double-digit case totals include Washington (27), Martin (21), Anoka (17), Le Sueur (11), Mower (11) and St. Louis (10).

Otter Tail County officials said the first confirmed case in the county is an adult who is in isolation at home, and recently traveled overseas.

“While our first confirmed case in Otter Tail County is related to travel, we know there is community spread occurring in Minnesota. The virus is very likely circulating in our communities,” Jody Lien, Otter Tail County's public health director, said in a news release.

An orange barricade at the entrance of an empty parking lot.
A barricade blocks the entrance to an empty parking lot in front of Macy's at Rosedale Center on Saturday in Roseville. Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order began at 11:59 p.m. Friday and will remain in place until April 10. Rosedale Center is expected to be closed until at least April 10, with some restaurants with exterior entrances remaining open for curbside pickup or delivery.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

St. Louis County officials said one of the 10 people who tested positive in that county is hospitalized.

"We are seeing confirmed cases in both urban and rural parts of St. Louis County," Amy Westbrook, St. Louis County's public health division director, said in a news release. "We continue to assume there are more cases here than what is confirmed due to limited testing."

The Minnesota Department of Health reported that 39 people remained hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Sunday, up from 31 on Saturday. Sixteen people are being treated in ICUs, up from 13 on Saturday.

State and private labs have tested 17,657 people in Minnesota as of Sunday, up from about 16,000 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s stay-at-home order entered its second day on Sunday, with streets and highways largely quiet even by weekend standards.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s order, intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state, went into effect this weekend and will remain in place until April 10.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported that statewide, traffic volumes were down 30 percent on Friday and 55 percent on Saturday, compared to the same time last year. Saturday's traffic volume in the Twin Cities metro area was down 59 percent.

Speaking with reporters on Saturday, Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health, reiterated the call for all people to stay in their homes as much as possible. And she said 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.

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Sunday that 25 “congregate care” facilities, such as assisted-living facilities, have had confirmed cases in Minnesota — in total, that includes 21 residents and 11 employees.

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.

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 503 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, Wisconsin had more than double that total — 1,112 cases, with 13 deaths. Wisconsin and Minnesota have tested roughly the same number of patients, according to state data.

To the south, Iowa reported 336 cases and four deaths.

To the west, South Dakota reported 90 confirmed cases and one death as of Sunday. North Dakota reported 98 confirmed cases and one death.

— MPR News staff

Reducing the need for in-person prenatal care

The head of Hennepin Healthcare's obstetrics and gynecology department is trying to make it easier for prenatal care patients to conduct virtual check-ups amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Tara Gustilo said the department is trying to raise money to buy blood pressure cuffs and thermometers that patients can use at home.

Gustilo said that while not all prenatal appointments can be done remotely, it's important to reduce the amount of in-person visits during the coronavirus outbreak.

"We feel like physically, it will be safer," she said. "The chance of our patients being exposed, the chance of us being exposed, our patients families being exposed, goes way down by not bringing people back and forth."

Gustilo estimated the department will need to raise between $60,000 and $80,000 to buy the equipment. Right now she said her department has more than 1,300 patients.

— Brandt Williams | MPR News

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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.