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Latest on COVID-19 in Minnesota: 18 dead; treatment costs waived; schools may stay shut

Apr 02, 2020 05:53AM ● By Editor
A man wears a face cover as he stocks bread at Lunds and Byerlys in Wayzata on Tuesday.  Photo: Evan Frost | MPR News

From Minnesota Public Radio News - April 2, 2020

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday conceded that it was unlikely that school buildings, which he’d ordered closed through early May, will reopen this school year as the state works to check the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“The chance of being able to gather back at school is relatively slim,” he told reporters, calling the situation “heartbreaking” for families and students, especially those preparing to graduate from high school.

Walz’s comments came hours after officials reported that 18 Minnesotans had died from COVID-19, up one from Wednesday, with 38 people, including a 25-year-old, now in intensive care. The number of positive tests for the disease since the pandemic began rose to 742, up 53. About half of those testing positive have recovered to the point where they no longer need isolation.

The governor continues to weigh whether to extend Minnesota's stay-at-home order beyond April 10 and indicated that guidance to Minnesotans on golf and other activities was still under discussion. He plans to address Minnesotans Sunday night via YouTube when he delivers his State of the State address.

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

As officials continue to seek out medical and laboratory supplies they’ll need to handle an expected coming surge of hospitalizations, the state Commerce Department announced that Minnesota’s health plans have agreed to waive in-network cost-sharing for treatment of COVID-19.

Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley told reporters that the participating plans — including Blue Cross, HealthPartners and Medica — have agreed to waive those in-network consumer expenses at least through May.

"If you get sick with COVID-19, your focus should only be on getting better and recovering,” he said “You shouldn't have to worry about getting a bill that could ruin you financially, especially during this difficult time.”

The health plans have not committed to cover sharing costs for out-of-network service but the Commerce Department continues to talk with them about it, Kelley added.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans and many hospitals in Minnesota say they want Gov. Walz to allow licensed health care workers from other states to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Senate Republicans have also asked for more licensing flexibility. Walz said he plans to explore the issue.

Beyond the updates of cases and deaths, the Health Department Thursday noted:

  • Among those who have died in Minnesota, ages run from 58 to 95. The most recent death was a 69-year-old Hennepin County resident who was not in a group care facility, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters. 

  • 56 of 87 Minnesota counties have a confirmed COVID-19 case.

  • An estimated 31 percent of COVID-19 cases have come from community spread, the greatest likely source of exposure to this point.

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. However, the total number of Martin County cases, 29, was unchanged from Wednesday.

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

Malcolm said 47 group care facilities in Minnesota now have at least one case of COVID-19 case; 11 of the 18 deaths have involved people living in group care operations. She said the state would begin naming some of the larger facilities with cases.

As religious holidays approach, health leaders continue to emphasize that even people who are healthy and symptom-free can still have and spread the coronavirus to others. 

Besides the strain on the medical system, officials continue to remain concerned about the economic toll on businesses and individuals thrown out of work as officials have called on the public to stay home to slow the spread of the virus. 

Since March 16, 297,397 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment. Steve Grove, the employment and economic development commissioner, said Minnesota's most recent claim numbers trended down from last week.

Walz was asked Thursday about outdoor activities in a stay-at-home world. He indicated officials were trying to balance the need for social distancing with the fact that people want to get outside as the weather improves

He said boating with family was fine, and that officials were working to clarify guidance on other outdoor activities like golf and running. “We’re still trying to evolve these,” he said.Developments from around the state

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

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

Top headlines

Paid sick time advocates say pandemic proves point: Even with provisions in coronavirus emergency measures, advocates of paid sick time say the need exists for broader protections.

Some playgrounds remain open, despite coronavirus worries. But are they safe? Playgrounds present unique challenges: Social distancing isn't exactly a concept that toddlers or preschoolers understand. Keeping them at least 6 feet apart while they're sliding on a slide or climbing on equipment is virtually impossible.

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.

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.

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.

To read the original article and see other COVID-19 reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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