April 4 update on COVID-19 in MN: Death toll increases to 24; state releases list of affected long-term care facilities

Samples are tested for COVID-19.
Samples are tested for COVID-19 in March at the Minnesota Department of Health.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Health

Updated: 6:50 p.m.

State health officials reported Saturday that 24 people in Minnesota have died from COVID-19, up from 22 the previous day.

Meanwhile the overall number of confirmed cases in the state increased to 865 on Saturday, up from 789 on Friday. It’s the largest single-day increase in cases so far in Minnesota.

Among other updated numbers released Saturday by the Minnesota Department of Health:

  • 95 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 42 in intensive care.

  • 440 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recovered to the point of no longer needing isolation.

  • State and private labs have completed 25,423 tests, about 1,200 more than on Friday.

Cases have now been reported in 58 counties across the state, though officials said that limited testing means the coronavirus is certainly more widespread across Minnesota than testing indicates. About a third of cases have been attributed to “community transmission” — meaning there was no clear link to travel or other known cases.

A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date.

The two deaths reported Saturday were a 100-year-old resident of Winona County, who was living in a group-care setting, and an 89-year-old resident of Martin County, who was not. Martin County, on the Minnesota-Iowa border, continues to account for the largest number of cases outside of the Twin Cities metro area and Rochester. The total number of Martin County cases stands at 32.

Also Saturday, the Minnesota Department of Health started releasing the names of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases. It's the first time health officials have released a list identifying the affected facilities; they had previously cited data privacy concerns for withholding the names.

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A graph showing the percentage of cases tested and their current status.

Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials on Friday acknowledged growing questions in Minnesota and the nation about whether citizens should be wearing non-medical grade masks when they go out in public.

State epidemiologist Kris Ehresmann reiterated on Saturday that a homemade or non-medical-grade mask can help protect others — though not the person wearing it. She said wearing a mask does not give someone license to skip other safety measures, such as frequent hand-washing, social distancing and staying home when sick.

"If we're continuing to do all the other mitigation strategies, this is just an extra tool that people can consider. We just don't want people to have a false sense of security,” she said.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases by age
A graph showing the median age of Minnesota COVID-19 patients.

Health officials emphasize that surgical masks and N95 masks should be reserved for health care workers, as state officials continue scrambling to find masks, and other medical and laboratory supplies, in anticipation of a coming surge of COVID-19 cases.

Many Minnesotans have been downloading patterns and dusting off sewing machines to make fabric masks for themselves and others.

Officials on Friday also noted cases of COVID-19 in two state prison system facilities, including 20 prisoners and two staff at the Moose Lake facility who either have the disease or are presumed to have it. Two corrections staff members at the juvenile facility in Red Wing also tested positive.

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said the system is implementing a "stay with unit" policy, keeping inmates within the same living unit, rather than letting them commingle. He said system leaders are reviewing cases of nonviolent offenders within 90 days of release for step-down programs that would ease prison crowding.

Gov. Tim Walz is scheduled to deliver his State of the State speech Sunday at 7 p.m., via YouTube from the governor’s residence. MPR News will provide live coverage online and on-air.

For daily COVID-19 updates in your inbox, subscribe to our morning newsletter.

Developments from around the state

List of long-term care facilities linked to positive cases now public

For the first time on Saturday, health officials released the names of long-term care facilities linked to a positive COVID-19 case.

State epidemiologist Kris Ehresmann said the positive test could be from a resident, staff person or contractor who was in the facility during their infectious period. Only facilities with 10 or more residents are listed, and she cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the facilities.

"This is not intended to suggest that these facilities are in any way not doing the right thing by their residents. It's simply being transparent," she said. "The fact that some facility is listed on our website does not mean necessarily that there is a flaming crisis within that facility."

Ehresmann said health department case managers are working with each of the facilities to isolate those affected and watch for signs of additional spread.

The 32 facilities listed are located in 14 counties: Anoka, Clay, Crow Wing, Dakota, Faribault, Freeborn, Hennepin, Martin, Olmsted, Ramsey, St. Louis, Washington, Wilkin and Winona.

They are among a total of 47 group care facilities that have had outbreaks. Most of them have one or two cases, but there are nine with more than two cases, Ehresmann said. Overall, 59 residents and 26 staff have tested positive, she said.

Nine facilities account for the 13 deaths in Minnesota that are associated with congregant care, Ehresmann said.

A facility currently listed on the health department's website can be removed later if enough time passes without new positive cases, Ehresmann said.

Trump levels more criticism at Minnesota-based 3M

President Trump again took aim at Minnesota-based 3M in his daily briefing at the White House on Saturday afternoon.

In recent days Trump has accused 3M of not being committed to getting its respirator masks into the hands of American health care workers.

Pressed by reporters on Saturday, Trump said 3M is free to sell to other countries but should be putting Americans first.

"3M has not treated our country well," he said. "And if they do, great. And if they don't, they're going to have a hell of a price to pay."

3M officials have denied the president's assertions, saying they're ramping up production worldwide and getting as many masks as possible into the U.S. They also said there would be “significant humanitarian implications" to any move to ban the export of respirators to other countries.

— MPR News staff

Ellison files enforcement action against Minnesota landlord

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed an enforcement action against a landlord in Pine County who allegedly disconnected utilities at his tenants’ home during the governor’s stay-at-home order.

In a press release, Ellison’s office claimed that Howard Mostad entered his tenants’ home in Sandstone against their wishes and disconnected their electricity, an attempt to pressure the tenants to vacate the property.

Ellison said that’s a violation of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order meant to protect tenants from being evicted during the state’s COVID-19 peacetime emergency.

Among other things, Ellison’s office is seeking civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation and restitution for the residents.

“Most people, businesses and landlords are doing the right thing during the crisis,” Ellison said in a statement. “For those landlords who aren’t, let this case serve as a warning to you: If you take illegal actions to force your tenants to vacate their property during this emergency, my office will take swift and strong action against you.”

Ellison’s office has a hotline for people who think they are being wrongly evicted during the coronavirus emergency.

Walz’s office halted evictions during the coronavirus outbreak in mid-March.

The Minnesota Multi Housing Association, the state’s primary landlord association, is also asking its members to adhere to the executive order, calling on rental property owners to halt evictions on renters, waive late fees and provide residents with more flexible payment plans until May 31.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Sanford Health launches 90-minute rapid COVID-19 testing

Sanford Health says it is expanding COVID-19 testing at its four locations using a faster testing method. Sanford says the tests return results in about 90 minutes, making it much easier to manage cases. Previous test results took 24 to 48 hours.

Dr. James Volk, vice president at Sanford in Fargo, N.D., says hospitals in Fargo and Sioux Falls, S.D., will each be able to run 475 of the rapid tests every week.

"That's why at the beginning we're limiting it to inpatients and health care providers where those turnaround times are going to be especially important,” Volk said.

Sanford hopes to expand the testing to Bemidji, Minn., and Bismarck, N.D., next week, adding a total capacity of 15,000 tests per week.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Minneapolis to provide $5M to help low-income families, small businesses

The city of Minneapolis on Friday announced a $5 million funding plan to help small business owners, renters and others struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The package includes $2 million for emergency housing assistance for low-income Minneapolis families who have lost significant income because of COVID-19. It also includes zero-interest loans for small businesses.

Mayor Jacob Frey said he hopes the city plan will help fill the gaps in state and federal aid.

"These are a really important first step for helping our communities to hold on. This will be a marathon, and we are just in the starting blocks now," he said.

Frey said the funding package does not require approval by the City Council. The city of St. Paul approved a similar plan earlier this week.

— Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Hy-Vee adopts one-way grocery aisles

Grocery chain Hy-Vee says it's adding signs to make the aisles in its stores one-way.

It's among several more safety measures the chain announced Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic. The aim of the one-way aisles is to keep shoppers from passing each other and promote social distancing. Signs will be installed over the weekend.

Hy-Vee also is adding more clear plastic panels at checkouts to protect cashiers and customers. And starting Monday, it's asking shoppers to follow a one-person-per-cart rule, to minimize the number of people in stores.

Hy-Vee has more than two dozen grocery stores in southern Minnesota.

— MPR News staff

Hennepin Co. opens third shelter for COVID-19 isolation

Hennepin County has opened a third temporary shelter that can be used as an isolation space. The hotel site is being used exclusively for homeless people and others who are living in congregate arrangements who are awaiting coronavirus test results or who have already tested positive.

The shelter accommodates 44 people in 44 rooms, said David Hewitt, director of the county's Office to End Homelessness."We are expecting to need it," he said. "We know that we need to continue moving rapidly because this is a rapidly evolving crisis and we know we want to have these options before we need them."

So far, there haven't been any positive COVID-19 cases identified among the county's homeless population. But 37 homeless people have been isolated due to possible exposure to the virus and 18 individuals remain sheltered in isolation, said Hewitt.

— Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

MOA to host blood drives

The Mall of American remains closed for shoppers because of COVID-19 but it will soon be used as a temporary blood drive site.

The mall will host American Red Cross blood drives April 7-8 and 17-18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the north atrium. Organizers say the largest mall in North America provides a spacious place to practice safe social distancing guidelines.

People donating must make an appointment ahead of time on the American Red Cross website.

The Red Cross says it supplies 40 percent of the country's blood supply, which has been reduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

— Nina Moini | MPR News

Top headlines

In reversal, University of Minnesota will refund more student housing costs: Under the new plan, the University of Minnesota will pay students all of their unused housing, dining and parking fees from March 28 — the date Minnesota's stay-at-home order began — through the end of the semester. Half of students' service fees for the semester will be returned, too.

Local news takes hit in midst of coronavirus coverage: Newspapers, which have become critical ways for the public to access information during the coronavirus pandemic, are getting squeezed in the shrinking economy.

Minnesota women applying for unemployment at higher rates than men: Women made up 54 percent of unemployment insurance applicants the last week of March. Earlier in the month, women were 63 percent of applicants. Employment officials think the numbers may even out as more male-dominated fields like manufacturing and construction see job cuts.

U of M designers build prototypes to fill the urgent need for masks, ventilators: University of Minnesota medical researchers and engineering and design experts have teamed up to create masks that health care workers can use in a pinch. Other U researchers have built a simplified ventilator that they hope can be used, if hospitals run out of high-tech breathing devices.

Ad says economic hit is worse than the threat of COVID-19. Is that true? MPR News talked with the ad’s author, Kevin Roche, and experts about the claim and some of his other statements about the virus.

Tech frustrations, inequity and silver linings: Minnesota’s first week of distance learning: As hundreds of thousands of Minnesota students attempted to learn from home this week, the experiment was punctuated by widespread technology failures, overwhelmed parents and deepening inequities.

Pandemic takes out Rock the Garden, cuts Guthrie’s season short: The outdoor concert at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden had been scheduled for June 20. Meanwhile, the Guthrie said it expected to open its 2020-21 season in mid-September with a production of Noël Coward’s “Private Lives.” Organizers also announced that the Twin Cities Pride Festival has been postponed.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

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.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases by age
A graph showing the median age of Minnesota COVID-19 patients.

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.