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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Schools told to prep for 3 scenarios come fall; 19 more dead

Jun 19, 2020 07:12AM ● By Editor
At Promise Preschool in Duluth, a space where students normally gather for story time sits silent and empty in March. K-12 school buildings across Minnesota have been closed since mid-March to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the state.  Photo: Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

From Minnesota Public Radio News - June 19, 2020

State health officials told schools to prepare for all possible circumstances for the upcoming academic year as the coronavirus killed 19 more Minnesotans. 

Meanwhile, the counts of people currently hospitalized and in intensive care units — two of the most closely watched measures of how the state is managing the COVID-19 spread — remain at their lowest points in more than a month, continuing a hopeful, downward trend.

Despite that positive trend, the Education Department said schools should plan for three scenarios when classes start again:

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.

The announcement came a day after 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.

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics

  • 31,675 cases confirmed (387 new) via 460,879 tests

  • 1,344 deaths (19 new)

  • 3,718 cases requiring hospitalization

  • 345 people remain hospitalized; 171 in intensive care

  • 27,566 patients no longer needing isolation

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

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 Thursdayissued 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.

"Visitor restrictions, while intended to protect residents from infection, have been extremely challenging for residents and families, including so many of us, over these last several months,” she said during a Thursday briefing. 

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

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.

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

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 744 confirmed cases as of Thursday. 

COVID-19 cases in Mower County

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.

Mower County is second to Nobles County in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,621 confirmed cases Thursday. 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’s only been one additional case 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.

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

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 2,122 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 Thursday, the Health Department reported 553 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.

Developments from around the state

DFLers to tie Walz spending proposals to local COVID-19 aid

Minnesota House Democrats are tying COVID-19 aid to local governments to new spending proposed by Gov. Tim Walz.

Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature had reached a broad agreement to pass on $841 million in federal aid to local city and county governments, based on the number of people in each area. A Senate bill to that effect passed 62-4 on Tuesday, and the idea has support in the House, too. 

But Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said Wednesday that the measure will be amended Thursday morning to add $130 million of Walz’s supplemental budget proposals.

That move could increase pressure on Republicans to support new spending they oppose by tying it to the popular local aid. But it could also threaten to derail the local aid by attaching what Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, called a “poison pill.” Democrats have a majority in the House, and Republicans have a majority in the Senate. 

Republican legislators oppose new spending because of the state’s projected $2.4 billion deficit. Carlson said the spending proposals that will be tacked on are all helpful and necessary, including funding for prisons, veterans, and the Minnesota Zoo. 

The local aid needs to be distributed by the end of June. The Minnesota Senate is planning to adjourn on Friday, putting lawmakers on a strict time crunch.

— David Montgomery | MPR News

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.

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

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