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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: 5 more deaths; slower case increase over holiday weekend

Jul 06, 2020 06:13AM ● By Editor
Store manager Elliott De St. Croix disinfects a foot measuring tool on May 18 at Shoesters in Minneapolis. The store reopened for in-person business under the state's "Stay Safe Minnesota" order.  Photo: Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

From Minnesota Public Radio News - July 6, 2020

Minnesota health officials reported more than 500 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, along with five more deaths. Officials didn't release data on the July Fourth holiday but the latest numbers covering both Saturday and Sunday are similar to recent single-day reports.

The count of people currently hospitalized dropped from 270 to 253 in Sunday's report — the lowest number since April 22. The number of those patients needing intensive care remained unchanged at 132.

All five of the deaths reported Sunday were people who lived in long-term care facilities.

The state has averaged more than 14,000 completed tests a day in the past few days. The state’s positivity rate, the percentage of all tests that come back positive, is at 1.8 percent — the lowest since March 25.

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics in Minnesota:

  • 38,136 cases confirmed via 674,015 tests

  • 1,471 deaths 

  • 4,170 cases requiring hospitalization

  • 253 people remain hospitalized; 132 in intensive care

  • 33,408 patients no longer needing isolation

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the largest age group of confirmed cases — more than 8,000 since the pandemic began. The median age for cases has been dipping and is now just under 39 years old, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm noted last week as she cautioned young adults to not let their guard down.

Walz eyeing statewide mask mandate

As several U.S. states mandated mask-wearing statewide amid the recent upticks in new cases, Gov. Tim Walz last week said he is concerned enough about potential outbreaks that he’s considering a statewide mask order.

While he didn’t give an indication on when he’d decide, the governor said such a move would offer public health benefits while helping businesses that are struggling to enforce their own mask rules.

Meanwhile, a few Minnesota cities have mandated mask-wearing in the cities’ public spaces, and several more are considering a similar measure. Medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department said they are backing a statewide mandate.

“It is our advice from the Health Department's perspective that this is so important and so effective and the evidence has gotten more and more clear on this point," Malcolm said last week. "We do recommend that it become a requirement at the statewide level."

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 951 confirmed cases as of Sunday.

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been 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.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,668 confirmed cases Sunday. About 1 in 13 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

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 Sunday, confirmed cases were at 2,361 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. As of Sunday, the Health Department reported 573 people have now tested positive in the county. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Cottonwood County (136 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County (312 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall.

Developments from around the state

Advocates urge officials to release nonviolent prisoners over virus concerns

Advocates are again demanding that the Minnesota Department of Corrections release nonviolent prisoners due to the pandemic.

Stephanie Brown, who leads the group Decarcerate Minnesota Coalition, said many prisoners have already served time for their original crime, but were sent back to prison for breaking minor rules of probation, like being late to work. The coalition has been lobbying the state for a year, hoping to free prisoners currently held on technical violations.

Now with COVID-19, Brown said that the health of prisoners who shouldn’t even be incarcerated is being ignored and that state officials have acknowledged the problem, but won’t do anything about it. 

“That’s what we’re hearing from prisoners who are talking about unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Prisoners are being forced to go back to work,” Brown said. “They’re just seeing this urge to pretend like everything’s fine.”

COVID-19 has prompted the early release of some prisoners, but Brown said it’s not nearly enough. The organization plans to protest outside the the Corrections Department Thursday afternoon.

— John Enger | MPR News

Top headlines

As state continues to reopen, some office workers fear COVID-19 exposure, retaliation: Employment lawyers in Minnesota say they're hearing from workers who say they have been retaliated against for raising safety concerns about workplace conditions — or who have hesitated to speak up because they fear retaliation.

As more people return to work, 4 things to know about your rights: As the economy reopens, workers and employers are facing myriad questions and concerns about workplace safety. Here’s what you need to know about your rights as you return to work.

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

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