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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: 1,072 deaths; hospitalizations dip

Jun 02, 2020 05:41AM ● By Editor
Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Health, provides an update on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference in May. "Everyone should be on heightened alert" for symptoms, she said, as massive protests over the police killing of George Floyd continued in the Twin Cities Monday.  Photo: Scott Takushi | Pioneer Press via AP, Pool file

From Minnesota Public Radio News - June 3, 2020

COVID-19’s death toll continued its rise in Minnesota, with the state Health Department reporting 22 more deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,072 since the pandemic began.

Current hospitalizations (537) and intensive care cases (248), though, remained relatively stable from Monday. Both of those key metrics have trended down the past three days.

The newest numbers come a day after Minnesota allowed restaurants, bars and more businesses were allowed to reopen in some capacity, and as state officials put the word out for Minnesotans to donate blood.

While some businesses want fewer restrictions, Monday’s beginning of phase two of Gov. Tim Walz’s “stay safe” planmarked the most significant reopening of the economy since the COVID-19 outbreak first hit Minnesota in early March. 

While testing has been on the rise, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday that the Health Department’s public health laboratory stopped processing results over the weekend as the lab closed when the Capitol complex was evacuated due to mass protests over the police killing of George Floyd. 

Health officials are still bracing for a spike in cases related to the gatherings, but Malcolm said transmission may be limited because the demonstrations have been held outside. 

Health Department epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said on Monday that the state is coming up with a plan to allow demonstrators access to testing even if they don't have symptoms. She said officials will be working with community health centers and clinics to secure enough testing capacity for people to get tested. 

Lynfield said protesters should wait until several days after exposure because the test may produce a false negative if it's done too early. Health officials said they expect to be see whether the protests spread the virus within three weeks. 

During the Health Department’s Monday briefing, Kris Ehresmann, the state's infectious disease director, also said that “we are in desperate need” of blood supplies, urging Minnesotans to donate blood. 

Officials continue to pay close attention to the daily intensive care counts, a key metric, as they work to manage the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm the state’s health care system.

If the partial reopening of the economy that began Monday results in a surge of cases, state officials have said the restrictions could return. 

Developments from around the state

Court blocks bar owner from serving dine-in guests, violating Walz order

A Stearns County judge has ruled against an Albany, Minn., bar owner who threatened to open last month in violation of COVID-19 restrictions.

Kris Schiffler owns six bars and restaurants in central Minnesota. Last month, Schiffler announced he was opening one of them, Shady's Hometown Tavern in Albany, to dine-in customers, even though restaurants were restricted to take-out orders only under Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order.

He backed down after state Attorney General Keith Ellison sought a restraining order.

District Court Judge Shan Wang granted the state's motion for a temporary injunction against Schiffler, prohibiting him from violating the governor's executive order.

The judge ruled that the governor "acted within his authority" when he closed restaurants, and did not abuse his power when he determined that the pandemic constituted a peacetime emergency.

In his statement following the ruling, Ellison praised the court decision. 

“All Minnesotans — especially the folks who live in and near Stearns County — can be relieved that the court has put their health first by granting this temporary injunction,” he said.

— Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

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.

In southwestern Minnesota’s Nobles County, where an outbreak hit Worthington’s massive JBS pork plant, about 1 in 15 people have tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. By Tuesday, there were 1,552 confirmed cases, although the numbers are rising at a much slower rate than in previous weeks.

The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since partially reopenedwith 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 Monday, confirmed cases were at 2,042 with 14 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.

On Tuesday, the Health Department reported 504 people have now tested positive.

While the counts in those counties are high relative to their population, officials say the growth in new cases in those areas appears to be stabilizing.

Top headlines

Restaurants reopen with restrictions as some hunger for more: Outdoor dining resumed Monday amid clamoring by restaurants to scale back remaining restrictions more quickly. Hair care businesses can also serve clients on a limited basis.

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

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