June 20 update on COVID-19 in MN: Hospitalizations continue downward trend

An empty hospital room.
A hospital room with a negative air pressure setup sits ready for a COVID-19 patient at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul on March 26. The negative air pressure setup pulls air outdoors, rather than filtering back into the hospital.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 11:25 a.m.

State health officials reported 12 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota on Saturday, as the number of people hospitalized and in ICUs continued to fall.

The death toll in Minnesota since the pandemic began is now at least 1,372. Nine of the 12 deaths reported Saturday were people who lived in long-term care facilities.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 438 new confirmed cases in the state in Saturday's data release, from nearly 17,000 completed tests — one of the highest testing totals reported to date.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota has dropped to 324, with 161 of those patients in ICUs — the lowest that's been since early May. Those are two of the most closely watched measures of how the state is managing COVID-19’s spread, and their decline marks a positive trend.

About 87 percent of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Minnesota have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics

  • 32,467 cases confirmed (438 new) via 492,043 tests

  • 1,372 deaths (12 new)

  • 3,767 cases requiring hospitalization

  • 324 people remain hospitalized; 161 in intensive care (down from 339/168 on Friday)

  • 28,205 patients no longer needing isolation

Earlier this week, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said intensive care capacity is “in about as good a situation as it could be at this point.”

ICU beds in the Twin Cities are still near high levels of use given the needs of COVID-19 patients along with cases not related to the disease. While there’s not a lot of slack in the system, the state is prepared, Malcolm said.

The latest counts came as state health officials announced that youth sports could resume in the coming weeks. Outdoor sports can return to games and scrimmages starting June 24, and indoor sports July 1 or later, under the Health Department’s recommended guidance.

Among the recommendations, the department calls on players to:

  • Avoid sharing individual water bottles, community snacks or towels

  • Try and use “dedicated personal equipment” such as bats, mitts and rackets

  • Find new ways to show sportsmanship, including “tip your hats instead of handshakes.”

While following the guidance can help reduce risk, “in the end everyone has to make their own decisions about what level of risk they are willing to accept,” Malcolm said.

“Some families, especially those with members who face an elevated risk of severe illness, may choose not to participate. That is perfectly OK, and everyone needs to respect that decision when a family or a player makes it.”

Officials also said the Minnesota Department of Education is working with the Minnesota State High School League to develop activities and sports guidance for schools for the fall sports season.

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

Outdoor, window visits allowed at long-term care facilities

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.

Health officials on Thursday issued guidance for outdoor visits at long-term care facilities, in addition to earlier guidelines on window visits.

Malcolm said while the coronavirus poses a health risk to residents, isolation is also a concern.

Visitors still must be screened for symptoms, and everyone has to wear masks and keep a minimum distance of 6 feet. Facilities are in charge of developing visitation hours and schedules, and they must have staff nearby and keep visitors from walking through facilities.

The state recommends those who want to visit residents, either through a window or outdoors, set up visits ahead of time through the facility.

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 755 confirmed cases as of Friday.

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.

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.

Health officials plan a COVID-19 testing push in Austin, Minn., this weekend, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,628 confirmed cases Thursday. Roughly 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although there have only been a few additional cases recorded 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 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 Friday, confirmed cases were at 2,126 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 Friday, the Health Department reported 554 people have now tested positive in the county.

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

Top headlines

Want to visit loved ones in nursing homes? Here's what you need to know: For the first time in months, many Minnesotans in nursing homes and assisted living facilities will be able to see visitors face to face — at least with masks on. The Minnesota Department of Health says these settings may now offer outdoor visits and through open windows.

6 things to know about what school will look like this fall: Under the planning guide, schools are being asked to have three plans on hand so they can pivot quickly from one to another if needed, depending on how widespread the virus becomes in the fall. Officials have said they won’t release their decision on what form the upcoming academic year will take until late July.

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.

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