April 6 update on COVID-19 in MN: 30 dead, 57 in ICU, Walz eyes extending restrictions

People walk down a crowded path.
People walk and bike on the trails around Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 8:35 p.m. | Posted: 4 a.m.

As the count of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continues to rise, Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he’ll decide in the next two days on whether to renew his current two-week, stay-at-home order. However, he strongly indicated some restrictions will continue past Friday as officials work to manage the disease’s spread.

“Many of the things — I think I'm not speaking out of order here — will be kept in place because they work. I think we've already indicated that around restaurants, schools, there may be others, Walz said, adding, “if there are ways to get some of these things going again we should try and do that.”

Minnesota is still preparing for a surge of hospitalizations, although the state remains among the lowest in the country in per capita infection rates, he said. "We might end up with more hospital beds than we needed, but that is a much better situation than winding up with too few."

Walz’s remarks came hours after the state Health Department reported that 30 Minnesotans have now died from COVID-19, up one from Sunday, while 57 are hospitalized in intensive care.

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The agency said 986 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, 51 more than the day before. Just under half have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date.
A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

As in other briefings, Walz and other state health leaders acknowledged the trauma caused by the disease, the economic fallout and how the immediate future remains cloudy. “I know that the unknowns in this make it so frustrating,” he said.

Beyond the updates on cases and deaths, the Health Department Monday noted:

  • Among those who have died in Minnesota, ages run from 58 to 100. The most recent: a 98-year-old Ramsey County person who’d been in an assisted living facility.

  • More than one-third of COVID-19 cases are now considered to have come from community spread, the greatest likely source of exposure to this point.

  • Sixty-two of 87 Minnesota counties now have at least one case. Murray and Redwood counties joined the list.

  • 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 county has seen 33 cases and four deaths.

The Health Department Monday also began listing deaths by county, including Hennepin with 14, Martin with four and Ramsey with three. Dakota, Olmsted and Winona counties each have two deaths. Chisago, Scott and Washington each have one.

Asked about patterns in the spread, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said health investigators have detected large family cluster cases, but not a so-called "super spreader" case where one individual or event are attributed to a mass COVID-19 spread.

Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management chief, said officials have evaluated more than two dozen sites around the state that could be staged as makeshift hospitals and accommodate some 2,700 beds, including former nursing homes and old hospitals. He's pushing to get some some of those sites set up soon.

Minnesota health officials over the weekend released the names of long-term care facilities in the state linked to a positive COVID-19 case.

A graph showing the percentage of cases tested and their current status.
A graph showing the percentage of cases tested and their current status.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Monday conceded that some of those facilities feel they were unfairly singled out. She said just because a facility has a case does not mean it is deficient and cautioned against misinterpreting the data.

Malcolm also said she’s concerned about reports that people possibly having strokes or heart attacks in the state are not calling 911, concerned about going to the hospital or unsure if their case is an emergency given the COVID-19 crisis.

The health system is still prepared to handle those cases, she said. “We really want to make sure Minnesotans are not delaying care for serious conditions.”

Malcolm also addressed the question of whether Minnesotans should be wearing face masks outside now, given the guidance from the CDC.

The commissioner emphasized that people who don’t feel well should still stay home and that those going out should not be wearing medical-grade masks, which are in short supply among health workers. The masks “do not protect the wearer from acquiring the illness,” she said.

Beyond the medical crisis, officials also continue to work through the steep economic problems the disease has triggered for household and state government budgets.

Steve Grove, commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the state’s received 342,043 applications for unemployment insurance since March 16. He said a new order will speed benefits for people with sick pay and vacation issues.

Walz also acknowledged that the projected $1.5 billion state budget surplus would not be there given the hit to the economy caused by the crisis and the response to it. He added, however, that Minnesota was in solid financial shape and would still be able to pay its bills.

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Developments from around the state

U of M summer classes to be online only

The University of Minnesota has announced that summer classes will be online only because of concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

University President Joan Gabel made the announcement in a system-wide email Monday.

“While we manage through the immediate concerns and challenges presented by COVID-19, my leadership team and I are also considering plans for the intermediate and long-term future,” Gabel said in the statement.

The Minnesota Daily reports the decision comes as university students enter the third week of online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines.

According to the email, while the move to online classes applies to all university students, individual campuses will communicate with students this week about plans specific to their campus.

The university earlier postponed all commencements.

— The Associated Press

Community groups band together to help COVID-19 response

A coalition of community groups, which are based in or serve residents of north Minneapolis, is formulating a response to COVID-19.

The Northside Community Response Team 2020 is focusing on how the virus is impacting the health, economy and social and civic infrastructure of north Minneapolis — which includes high concentrations of poverty and of communities of color.

Summit Academy OIC president and CEO Louis King said one crucial task is to help keep people connected while encouraging them to stay home. He said the group is creating virtual meeting spaces to fill in for the loss of social gathering spots like barbershops and beauty salons.

"It's going to be hard. This is sacrifice. They talk about the great generation in WWII and the people who lived in the great depression. This is our moment,” King said.

King said KMOJ radio and Black Music America, a black-owned locally based media company are spearheading that effort. The response team originally formed after a tornado tore a path through north Minneapolis in 2011.

— Brandt Williams | MPR News

U.S. attorney, MN attorney general partner to combat scams, hate crimes, price-gouging

The U.S. attorney, state Attorney General and county attorneys from across Minnesota are teaming up to tackle scams, hate crimes and price-gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said her office is seeing an increase in reports of cyber-security breaches, fraudulent scams, threats against law enforcement and hate crimes. She said people should be especially on the lookout for scams as the federal government begins releasing stimulus checks.

MacDonald said her office usually hears of schemes around this time of year that involve people calling unsuspecting residents about their taxes, “claiming to be IRS agents, that you need to pay a certain amount of money. We're going to see that with respect to these stimulus checks.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said it's important to have the cooperation of each partner. He said the U.S. attorney has jurisdiction over scams which originate out of the state, as well as enforcing federal hate crime laws. And he said county attorneys have similar powers over crimes which occur within state boundaries.

"The three of us together make a pretty powerful impact. And when you add the community — the public — to that, that foursome is unbeatable,” Ellison said. “And we're going to protect people if we stick together."

Ellison said his office has multiple investigations underway into businesses suspected of inflating prices of necessary goods.

— Brandt Williams | MPR News

Minnesota opens hotline to report bias tied to COVID-19

Minnesota has set up a hotline — 1-833-454-0148 — for people to report incidents of discrimination related to the COVID outbreak. Citizens can also report bias tied to the pandemic using a form at the Department of Human Rights website.

Asian Americans in Minnesota and across the country say they've been subject to rising levels of discrimination during the pandemic given the early epicenter of the outbreak in China.

It's important to document these incidents, even if they don't rise to a level of a hate crime, said Bo Thao-Urabe, head of the Minnesota-based Coalition of Asian-American Leaders.

Officials still urge victims of hate crimes and violence to call the police. The FBI has warned of a likely surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

— MPR News Staff

Walz celebrates birthday by coming off self-quarantine

Gov. Tim Walz is off of self-quarantine.

Two weeks ago, Walz announced he would isolate himself at the Governor’s Residence after coming in contact with someone who had COVID-19. Aides say he has not experienced symptoms but will continue to mostly work from the Summit Avenue residence.

Walz has said he’s looking forward to some fresh air and a jog but will practice the social distancing he’s asked of Minnesotans.

It’s also the governor’s birthday. He turns 56 Monday.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Legislature back in session Tuesday for workers’ comp bill

The Minnesota Legislature will come into session Tuesday to vote on the latest bill tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill provides first responders and medical workers access to workers’ compensation payments if they contract COVID-19 and are unable to keep doing their jobs. It covers firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors and care providers in hospitals, clinics or other health settings. Correctional officers are also eligible.

If the Legislature passes the bill, it would take effect immediately.

Negotiations had been occurring for more than a week, and Gov. Tim Walz said he was prepared to extend the coverage through executive order if lawmakers couldn’t come to agreement.

But the deal struck over the weekend has the backing of DFL and Republican legislative leaders.

Lawmakers are expected to take precautions and keep Capitol attendance as low as possible during the session that starts at noon for the House and 2 p.m. for the Senate.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Charges filed for violations of Minnesota executive orders

At least eight people in Minnesota are facing misdemeanor charges after prosecutors say they violated executive orders meant to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

In a series of directives in recent weeks, Gov. Tim Walz closed bars and restaurants, then schools, and then ordered Minnesotans to stay home.

David Schuster, 57, of Winnebago, Minn., was the first person charged with violating one of these orders. Faribault County prosecutors said he refused a police officer's request to close Schooter's Bar and Grill March 22, allegedly saying "this is communism."

Schuster could not be reached for comment. But ACLU of Minnesota Legal Director Teresa Nelson said criminal charges should be a last resort.

"That means doing education, giving people warnings, and trying to seek voluntary compliance," she said.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch said seven other people in seven counties are facing similar charges. Nelson said that in some cases, the misdemeanors were added to charges for other crimes.

— Matt Sepic | MPR News

Top headlines

Nursing homes on the front line of limiting coronavirus spread among Minnesotans: More than half of the Minnesotans who died from the respiratory illness lived in group care facilities. As of Monday, there are 90 residents and 36 staff in long-term care facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Seventeen people in long-term care settings have died from COVID-19.

Minnesota bracing for possible budget deficit because of COVID-19: The fiscal chaos stirred by the coronavirus is so worrisome that a new economic forecast will be ordered to get a better handle on the problem and clear the use of the state’s rainy day reserves. It’s a stunning reversal from just a month ago, when officials forecast a projected surplus of $1.5 billion that would pile up by July 2021.

Is it safe — and ethical — to send your child to day care? Parents of Minnesota’s littlest learners are facing a dilemma: Do they continue sending their kids to child care during the COVID-19 pandemic? Minnesota’s stay-at-home order does not prohibit families from taking their kids to day care, but officials note that the goal is to keep providers open specifically for the children of emergency workers.

Minn. nonprofits serving people with disabilities hustle to stay connected: For arts organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t upended their mission to use the creative arts to help people with disabilities lead richer, fuller lives. But it does mean getting creative with how to deliver their services, even as they worry about their financial future.

Even outside on a trail, 6 feet of distance is necessary: The stay-at-home order allows people to go outside; most parks and trails remain open in Minnesota. However, open spaces and fresh air don’t guarantee safety from COVID-19. Here’s some advice from the DNR and health experts for following the governor’s order and staying safe outside.

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.

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.