Updated 9:09 p.m.
As COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to rise, Minnesota officials on Wednesday said they were still working to secure needed testing supplies and get unemployment checks to people as quickly as possible.
And with religious holidays approaching, they again pleaded with Minnesotans to keep their distance to help check the disease’s spread. Gov. Tim Walz said he would decide next week on whether to extend his stay-at-home order beyond April 10.
He did make a call Wednesday, telling reporters that while this year’s open water fishing season will go on, the Governor’s Fishing Opener weekend, an annual celebration that had been set this year for May 7-10 in Otter Tail County, has been canceled.
Walz’s remarks came hours after officials confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Minnesota had reached 17, up five from Tuesday, with 27 people in intensive care and 689 testing positive since the pandemic began, up from 629.
Of those 689 total cases, 342 — about half — have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The newest Health Department figures come as state officials continue to seek out and secure sites for regional field hospitals to meet an expected surge of cases.
Walz on Tuesday said the latest modeling suggests COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in late May in Minnesota as the coronavirus spread continues at a rapid pace. However, the governor said the surge could come two weeks earlier or later and that the state must be ready sooner.
State officials are aiming to add 2,750 hospital beds, 1,000 of which would be in the Twin Cities metro area.
Health leaders continue to emphasize that even people who are healthy and symptom-free can still have and spread the coronavirus to others.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm Wednesday urged people to avoid gatherings with "anyone outside your household group." As difficult as it is, she said it would help hold down the spread of coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease.
Securing supplies of testing and protective gear to meet the expected coming surge remains an ongoing concern. State health officials say they are meeting testing needs for the COVID outbreak for now, but are already running out of some supplies.
Despite multiple calls with the federal Department of Health and Human Services and Walz’s personal request to Vice President Mike Pence, “none of the requested laboratory supplies that we’ve talked to HHS about have materialized in Minnesota at this point,” Malcolm said.
Beyond the deaths and hospitalization numbers, Wednesday’s Health Department update showed:
The median age of Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 cases is 47, but the median age of those who’ve needed hospitalization is 64, and it is 84 for those who’ve died of the disease. The age range for all confirmed cases has run from 4 months to age 104.
30 percent of identified cases are now considered tied to community spread, the largest single category of exposure listed by the Health Department. International travel accounts for 15 percent, with 3 percent from cruise ship exposure.
With 29 positive COVID-19 tests, Martin County on the Minnesota-Iowa border continued to account for the largest number of cases outside of the Twin Cities metro area and Rochester.
Recent deaths included a 76-year-old from Winona County and an 81-year-old from hard-hit Martin County, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.
She said authorities were also responding to COVID-19 cases at a state corrections facility in Moose Lake but that so far no cases have surfaced in Minnesota jails.
As state officials plan for the medical surge needed to meet the eventual peak of COVID-19 cases, the economic fallout from the disease and its spread continues.
Steve Grove, the employment and economic development commissioner, told reporters Wednesday that the number of unemployment applications is up to 272,766 since March 16.
Grove said jobless applicants should expect to receive unemployment compensation “a week or two after you apply, and we will backdate from the day you were separated from your work.”
Walz — who will deliver his State of the State address 7 p.m. Sunday from his residence via YouTube — said that he remained “deeply concerned” about the financial hit businesses and citizens were taking now and understood the first-of-the-month stress people are under as they face April bills.
He expressed hope that state and federal rescue packages will “at least keep people afloat” during the crisis.
Red Lake Band declares ‘medical martial law’
Medical martial law goes into effect Friday at 5 p.m. on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The 15-day limit on travel comes after the band received, what Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr. called, “credible” information that a member tested positive for the coronavirus.
Last week the tribal council imposed a nighttime curfew to limit travel on the northern Minnesota reservation.
Now residents must stay in their homes and yards except for essential travel.
Tribal Secretary Sam Strong says health care was inadequate before the pandemic, and leaders must do all they can to protect residents — particularly elders.
"Native Americans, and specifically our people, have been disadvantaged when it comes to health disparities and access to quality health care. As such we're taking preventative measures," he said.
Strong said the member who tested positive for the coronavirus does not live on the reservation, is in quarantine, and has been cooperating with Minnesota health officials.
— Matt Sepic | MPR News
Child care providers can seek financial relief from the state
Gov. Tim Walz announced on Wednesday that the application process for emergency grants for child care providers is open.
Minnesota legislators approved $30 million to help child care providers who've been hurt because of a significant drop in attendance due to COVID-19. Walz said children of essential workers will need providers to stay afloat to help care for them during this crisis.
Child Care Aware of Minnesota will administer the grants.
— Riham Feshir | MPR news
M Health Fairview to cut hours for some staff next week, citing reduced patient numbers
M Health Fairview says it's cutting hours for some of its employees beginning next week because of reduced patient populations at its hospitals. The staff reductions will not affect those caring for COVID-19 patients, the health system says.
According to a statement workers whose hours are reduced will be paid a minimum of 50 percent of their regular wages and will continue receiving all of their benefits regardless of how many hours they work.
The health system says it's facing increased costs associated with acquiring equipment and supplies related to the coronavirus pandemic. It says those cost increases are coming at a time when it's seeing a decrease in revenue due to the indefinite postponement of noncritical medical procedures.
The health system says employees could be called back as needed to address surges in COVID-19 patients. M Health Fairview has 34,000 employees.
— Mark Zdechlik | MPR News
Gov. Walz to deliver a State of the State address Sunday night
At the height of a public health emergency, Gov. Tim Walz will speak to the state’s residents on Sunday.
It won’t be before the Legislature, as is tradition. Instead, Walz will speak from the governor’s residence where he is nearing the end of a two-week self-quarantine after coming in contact with a person who has COVID-19.
The Walz remarks are scheduled for 7 p.m.
Walz won’t be the first to speak from the residence — former Gov. Jesse Ventura delivered his final State of the State from there in 2002.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News
State housing help likely on the way as part of pandemic response: Many Minnesotans out of work because of COVID-19 are starting to face their first rent and mortgage payments since the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Some are finding relief. Many are wondering what help they may get.
Ordway lays off 90 percent of staff during COVID-19 crisis: The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, in downtown St. Paul, has been dark for three weeks. In normal times it is home to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera and other organizations, and it serves as a venue for touring productions of Broadway shows. Among the productions that have been canceled during the pandemic are “The Color Purple” and “The Last Ship,” starring Sting.
Tax deadline moved to July amid COVID-19 pandemic: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS and the state’s Revenue Department gave people until July to file 2019 tax forms and make payments, but Minnesota officials hope people file as soon as they can to get their refund or prevent a state revenue pinch.
How to make ends meet if you lose your job under COVID-19: With no end to the outbreak in sight, many Minnesotans are left trying to pay bills and living expenses with less income than usual — or none at all. However, there’s some help available now from the state.
In Moorhead, city bus drivers pitch in to deliver meals: City bus drivers are helping deliver meals to senior citizens during the pandemic.
Stuck at home? Many deciding it's a good time to spruce it up: As many of us are slowing down under Minnesota’s stay-at-home order, some businesses are speeding up — paint and hardware stores, for example. For some Minnesotans, staying at home means a chance to tackle home improvement projects.
First responders seek workers’ comp pledge amid COVID-19 outbreak: Minnesota first responders, health care workers and other public employees want a change in state law that would guarantee them the opportunity to claim workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19. State lawmakers omitted the proposal from the package of coronavirus measures they passed last week.
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.