June 16 update on COVID-19 in MN: 9 more deaths; hospitalizations, ICU cases stable

A person wearing a personal protective equipment at a drive thru site
Elizabeth Santoro, a medic with the Minnesota Air National Guard 133rd Medical Group, administers a free COVID-19 test to Thomas Harmon, 61, of Robbinsdale at the Minneapolis Armory on May 23, 2020, in Minneapolis.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP file

Updated 12 p.m.

Minnesota’s COVID-19 toll continued to show signs of plateauing as the state Health Department reported nine more deaths while the number of people currently hospitalized (357) and needing intensive care (185) remained roughly stable from Monday.

Total deaths in the pandemic climbed to 1,313. Tuesday, however, marked the first time since mid-April that the department reported two consecutive days where deaths stayed in the single digits.

Intensive care cases — a closely watched measure of how Minnesota is handling the spread — are at their lowest in more than a month.

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

The newest counts come a day after state health officials posted guidelines aimed at letting people see their loved ones in congregate-care facilities.

The guidance states that window visits may be appropriate under some circumstances, though the state says they may confuse some patients with dementia. The policy also encourages mask-wearing and at least 6 feet of distance between the patient and their family member if the windows are open.

The Health Department is also developing guidelines for outdoor visits.

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Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Officials continue to implore Minnesotans to continue wearing masks in public spaces and keep social distancing. People who feel flu-like symptoms should get tested and people who feel ill should stay home.

Overall, nearly 31,000 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19. About 87 percent of those confirmed with the disease have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

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

Among those who’ve died in the pandemic, some 80 percent were residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities, nearly all had underlying health problems.

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 661 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. That puts Mower County second to Nobles County in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases
The six Minnesota counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors, both of which say they’re partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing. Quality Pork Producers has at least 90 employees with active cases, and 100 more who have recovered.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

In southwestern Minnesota, Nobles County reported 1,620 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. Roughly 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although there have been no increases the past few days.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since partially reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May.

An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Tuesday, confirmed cases were at 2,109 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.

As of Tuesday, the Health Department reported 548 people have now tested positive in the county.

Cases continue to climb noticeably in Cottonwood County, home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County, around a turkey processor in Marshall.

Developments from around the state

Officials: COVID-19 fears keeping kids from well visits

State health officials say they’re concerned that kids in Minnesota aren’t getting appropriate routine medical care as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on.

Researchers saw vaccination rates plummet in the weeks that followed the initial outbreak of coronavirus infections. Minnesota Department of Health leaders said they thought that reflected a sharp drop in parents bringing their kids in for routine checkups.

“We want parents to know that it's very important that they continue to make sure their kids get evaluated,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director. “Those well child checkups include many important things, including immunization.”

Dozens of children came down with measles in 2017 after a drop in vaccinations in Hennepin County.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

K-12 academic year plans expected by late July

Schools will get state guidance by late July on how to plan for the upcoming academic year, the Minnesota Department of Education says.

Schools need months to hire staff, register students and plan for all the details of starting the upcoming school year. But state officials say they will not release guidance on what form the 2020-2021 academic year will take until the week of July 27. 

At the moment, officials have told school districts and charter schools to plan for three possible scenarios in the fall: 

1) All children return to school buildings and in-person classes.

2) No children return to school buildings for in-person classes. Instead, all students will engage in distance learning.

3) Employ a hybrid of these two options with both in-person classes and distance learning. 

State officials say they will give districts guidance on planning for the three scenarios starting this week.

— MPR News Staff

Early results show low COVID-19 rate among Floyd protesters

Pop-up coronavirus testing sites around the Twin Cities have taken samples from more than 3,000 people who attended mass gatherings in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing.

State Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm says that the state has received about 1,300 test results back, and they show a 1.4 percent positivity rate.

Malcolm said people who don't have symptoms can get tested, and the tests are free.

"If you were involved in any of the mass gatherings — the protests, the vigils, the neighborhood cleanups, providing food, water, etc. — we really encourage you to get free testing at one of these community sites,” Malcolm said.

While that positivity rate is so far relatively low, health officials say it's too soon to tell if the protests will be the source of widespread community transmission.

Four sites were open on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, and will be open those days in coming weeks as well.

  • The Holy Trinity Church on East Lake Street in Minneapolis

  • The Sabathani Community Center on East 38th Street in Minneapolis

  • The New Salem Baptist Church on Bryant Avenue North in Minneapolis

  • The Jimmy Lee Recreation Center on Lexington Parkway in St. Paul

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Top headlines

Omar announces father's death from COVID-19 complications: In a statement, Omar said Nur Omar Mohamed died Monday. She gave no additional information.

MN Legislature nears agreement for COVID-19 aid to cities, counties: Minnesota will distribute $841 million in federal money to smaller local governments under the federal CARES Act, on top of $361 million Congress gave directly to Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based off Minnesota Department of Health cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus 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.