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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: 899 deaths; ICU cases hit new high

MPR News Staff

Minnesota’s COVID-19 death toll continued its grim ascent Tuesday as the state Health Department reported 899 people have died from the disease, up 18 from Monday. The number of Minnesotans currently needing intensive care rose to 258, a new daily high.

The newest counts come days after the state OK’d larger religious gatherings and agreed to let financially strapped restaurants and bars reopen for outside service, with capacity capped at 50 guests.

Despite that loosening, state health officials continue to caution that Minnesota has yet to see COVID-19’s peak.

The daily counts of those needing intensive care is a metric closely watched by state health officials who’ve been securing supplies and preparing for a coming peak in hospitalizations and ICU cases.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said recently those intensive care beds are filling up now in the Twin Cities metro area.

She 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.

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. There’s a common perception that it only affects elderly people, “but that is certainly not the case.”

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,’” she said. “That’s just not the case.”

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.

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 Tuesday, there were 1,478 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 Tuesday, confirmed cases were at 1,959 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 Tuesday, the Health Department reported 471 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.