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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: As hospitalizations dip, health officials warn against complacency

Jun 12, 2020 07:31AM ● By Editor
Lynn Goerdt (left) talks to Angie Ramirez (right, reflected in mirror) May 20, 2020, during a free face mask distribution event organized by the Duluth NAACP and held in the parking lot of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Duluth.  Photo: Derek Montgomery for MPR News 

From Minnesota Public Radio News - June 12, 2020

State health officials say 13 more Minnesotans have died from COVID-19, putting the total to 1,249 since the pandemic began. However, the daily counts of people hospitalized or needing intensive care continues to show a recent trend of plateauing. 

The Health Department on Thursday reported 411 people were currently hospitalized, down 16 from Wednesday and at their lowest level since early May. There were 196 people in intensive care, roughly the same as in the past week and down to levels from about a month ago. 

Current hospitalizations and intensive care cases are closely watched by state officials as they try to manage the spread of the disease so it does not overwhelm the health care system.

‘Many more months’

The newest counts come a day after a key state official cautioned the coronavirus could surge again in the fall and winter along with influenza.

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

The state’s COVID-19 response this spring to minimize indoor contact in restaurants, bars and other gathering spaces effectively eliminated the typical influenza season, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday. 

As people return to social spaces, the state is likely in the fall to face influenza and COVID-19 cycles together. “That will make it more challenging,” she said.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday the state would increasingly rely on the “good decisions” of individual Minnesotans to wear masks, keep their distance in public and take other measures to keep themselves and their neighbors safe as restrictions ease.

COVID-19 curbs took a major step back Wednesday with Gov. Tim Walz letting a host of businesses reopen — including indoor bar and restaurant service at limited capacity.

While there has been a recent, positive trend in hospitalizations and ICU cases, health officials cautioned people not to be complacent. Malcolm warned that the virus remains unpredictable and that Minnesotans should prepare for "many more months of the disease being present in our communities."

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

Total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota hit 29,316 Thursday. In about 85 percent of those cases, people have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Among the deaths, more than 80 percent involve people living in long-term care, 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 are now more than 604 confirmed cases.

That puts Mower County second to Nobles County, where an outbreak hit Worthington’s massive JBS USA pork processing plant, in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.

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.

At Hormel, officials say they anticipate that by early next week, they'll have 40 active cases among employees. They expect that an additional 39 people who've already tested positive will have recovered by then. 

Quality Pork Producers has 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 Mower County but who work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

At the massive JBS pork plant in Worthington, about 1 in 15 people have tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. 

By Thursday, there were 1,602 confirmed cases, although the increases are coming at a much slower rate than earlier in the epidemic.

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 Thursday, confirmed cases were at 2,088 with 17 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 Thursday, the Health Department reported 540 people have now tested positive in the county. 

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.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases

Developments from around the state

Mayo Clinic introduces a new antibody test

A new test developed by Mayo Clinic researchers will detect neutralizing antibodies — an indicator of how well someone who has been exposed to the coronavirus can fight it off, if exposed again. 

Mayo has already developed an antibody test, but it only indicates that a patient has been exposed to the coronavirus. That test doesn’t discern whether someone is immune to the virus — or for how long. 

The new test will be most useful in helping doctors and researchers discern how effective a plasma donation from someone who recovered from COVID-19 will be in treating someone who is actively fighting the virus. 

The test may also be useful in the development of a vaccine.

Scientists at Mayo stress the test isn’t an "immunity passport”; testing positive for neutralizing antibodies doesn't mean a patient is no longer at risk of catching the coronavirus. 

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Four COVID-19 testing sites open in Twin Cities

Four testing centers opened Tuesday in the Twin Cities to test people who were part of George Floyd protests, cleanup efforts or observing the protests for COVID-19. The centers are open for three successive Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from noon to 6 p.m.

  • 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

The testing is free and available to anyone — with or without symptoms. Health officials are urging people who may have participated in protests, cleanup and recovery efforts, vigils, neighborhood defense meetings to be tested, and asking people to make appointments for the tests through the Department of Health website.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Wednesday said about 1,100 people were tested at those sites Tuesday. People who test negative will get an email or text within 72 hours, while people who test positive will get a phone call within 72 hours, she said, adding that more testing opportunities would be coming.

Officials said that even if someone was in a protest 14 days ago, they should still consider being tested.

— Tim Nelson and Catharine Richert | MPR News

Top headlines

Lake of the Woods, the Minnesota county COVID-19 has (so far) forgotten: COVID-19 has spread across nearly the entire state of Minnesota. But Lake of the Woods County, in the state’s far north, is the only county in the state where there are no confirmed cases.

U of M plans to resume in-person classes this fall: The University of Minnesota plans to return, at least partially, to in-person classes and students on campus this fall, with social distancing and other safety measures for COVID-19

Across Minnesota, graduating seniors mark milestones amid the pandemic: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, graduating seniors faced an unexpected ending and weren’t able to experience last year traditions. We also asked seniors across Minnesota what they’d like to say to their graduating peers and what they want people to know about the class of 2020. Here are some of their heartfelt answers.

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

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