Updated 11:20 a.m.
Deaths tied to COVID-19 in Minnesota grew to 932 on Wednesday, rising 33 from the prior day. Hospitalizations also rose and the number of people in intensive care reached 260, a new daily high in the pandemic.
Gov. Tim Walz is expected to brief reporters at 2 p.m.
The newest numbers come as officials worry the expected surge in intensive care cases appears to be starting.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said recently those intensive care beds are filling up in the Twin Cities metro area. Officials said Tuesday that 87 percent of ICU beds in the metro area are now in use, much of that from COVID-19 cases, while other regions in the state still had available capacity.
Although they prepared for it, Malcolm and other leaders continued to implore Minnesotans to stay vigilant and take the disease seriously. Counts of cases and deaths continue to climb even as Minnesota loosens more restrictions, potentially opening the door to greater community spread.
The state recently OK’d larger religious gatherings and agreed to let financially strapped restaurants and bars reopen for outside service, with capacity capped at 50 guests.
As more parts of the economy restart and people start to gather again in public places, there’s a worry that people let down their guard believing COVID-19 “‘only a problem for certain populations and not for me.’ … That’s just not the case,” Malcolm said.
While people living in long-term care continue to account for most of the deaths, Malcolm noted that 42 is the median age of those who’ve tested positive for the disease.
Community spread is continuing and cases are not as isolated as people believe, she added, noting that officials won’t know for two to three weeks the effects of the most recent moves to loosen curbs on businesses, religious ceremonies and other gatherings.
Malcolm offered a glimmer of positive news Tuesday, telling reporters that the time it’s taking for total COVID-19 cases to double in Minnesota has stretched out now to 16 days, offering some hope that the disease will not overwhelm the state’s health care system.
Meatpacking hot spots remain
Many of the recent 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 Wednesday, there were 1,488 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 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 — have skyrocketed. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus.
There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County two weeks ago. By Wednesday, confirmed cases were at 1,984 with 12 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 Wednesday, the Health Department reported 475 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.
In other counties, however, case counts are climbing rapidly. Todd County, in central Minnesota, has seen the number of confirmed cases leap from just a few at the start of the month to nearly 300 as of Wednesday.
Court dismisses business challenge to Walz COVID-19 curbs
A coalition of businesses that challenged Minnesota coronavirus restrictions have suffered a legal setback.
The state Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition, which challenged orders imposed by Gov. Tim Walz. The appeals court said it lacked jurisdiction to review the validity of the Walz orders.
The groups had challenged them on equal protection grounds and said Walz exceeded his authority with the curbs on business activity.
Another lawsuit is pending in federal court.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News
Some businesses thrive despite pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for small businesses. But some through skill or luck — or a combination of both — have thrived or positioned themselves to be even stronger once the coronavirus threat fades.
How MPR News’ data reporter reads COVID-19 data: Every day at 11 a.m., the Minnesota Department of Health releases new data on COVID-19 cases in the state. The updates can be confusing, with dozens of new points of information, missing context, and tons of questions. Here’s a look behind the scenes.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based off Minnesota Department of Health cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
The coronavirus 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.