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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — Five more Minnesotans died of COVID-19, making Tuesday the state’s deadliest day yet during the pandemic.

The latest fatalities bring the state’s total to 17. Overall confirmed cases climbed by 60 from 629 to 689 in the Minnesota Department of Health’s update Wednesday.

South-central Minnesota cases rose from 61 to 66, with four of the new cases in Martin County.

The county has 29 total cases and continues to be the region’s hotspot for the illness. The only other newly confirmed case in south-central Minnesota was in Watonwan County, which now has two identified cases.

Blue Earth County has remained at nine cases since Monday. Le Sueur County remains at 15 cases, the second most in the region.

The age range for deaths so far is 58 to 95 years old. Current hospitalizations sit at 54 statewide with 27 in intensive care units.

As cases and deaths continued to rise, Minnesota officials on Wednesday said they were still working to secure needed testing supplies and get unemployment checks to people as quickly as possible.

And with holidays approaching, they again pleaded with Minnesotans to keep their distance to help check the disease’s spread. Gov. Tim Walz said he would decide next week on whether to extend his stay-at-home order beyond April 10.

Of the state’s 689 cases so far, 342 — about half — have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. The health department’s newest figures come as state officials continue to seek out and secure sites for regional field hospitals to meet an expected surge of cases.

Walz on Tuesday said the latest modeling suggests COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak in late May in Minnesota as the coronavirus spread continues at a rapid pace. However, the governor said the surge could come two weeks earlier or later and that the state must be ready sooner.

Another statistical predictor model, based on research by the University of Washington, places the peak of Minnesota’s COVID-19 virus outbreak in mid-April. The model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has predicted rates of infection, death and need for hospital beds for all 50 states.

It predicts a peak of cases on April 18 in Minnesota, that the state will need 712 ICU beds, and be short by 357 ICU beds. It also predicts the state will need 570 ventilators.

Deaths per day could peak at 49 on April 19, according to the model, and total deaths by Aug. 4 could be 1,039. The predictor model is adjusted every day with new data.

For the anticipated surge, state officials are aiming to add 2,750 hospital beds, 1,000 of which would be in the Twin Cities metro area.

Health leaders continue to emphasize that even people who are healthy and symptom-free can still have and spread the coronavirus to others.

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm Wednesday urged people to avoid gatherings with “anyone outside your household group.” As difficult as it is, she said it would help hold down the spread of coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease.

Securing supplies of testing and protective gear to meet the expected coming surge remains an ongoing concern. State health officials say they are meeting testing needs for the COVID outbreak for now, but are already running out of some supplies.

Despite multiple calls with the federal Department of Health and Human Services and Walz’s personal request to Vice President Mike Pence, “none of the requested laboratory supplies that we’ve talked to HHS about have materialized in Minnesota at this point,” Malcolm said.

Beyond the deaths and hospitalization numbers, Wednesday’s health department update showed:

• The median age of Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 cases is 47, but the median age of those who’ve needed hospitalization is 64, and it is 84 for those who’ve died of the disease. The age range for all confirmed cases has run from 4 months to age 104.

• 30 percent of identified cases are now considered tied to community spread, the largest single category of exposure listed by the health department. International travel accounts for 15 percent, with 3 percent from cruise ship exposure

• With 29 positive COVID-19 tests, Martin County continued to account for the largest number of cases outside of the Twin Cities metro area and Rochester.

Recent deaths included a 76-year-old from Winona County and an 81-year-old from hard-hit Martin County, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.

She said authorities were also responding to COVID-19 cases at a corrections facility in Moose Lake, but that so far no cases have surfaced in Minnesota jails.

As state officials plan for the medical surge needed to meet the eventual peak of COVID-19 cases, the economic fallout continues.

Steve Grove, the employment and economic development commissioner, told reporters Wednesday that the number of unemployment applications is up to 272,766 since March 16.

Grove said jobless applicants should expect to receive unemployment compensation “a week or two after you apply, and we will backdate from the day you were separated from your work.”

Walz — who will deliver his State of the State address Sunday — said that he was “deeply concerned” about the financial hit businesses and citizens were taking now and understood the first-of-the-month stress people are under as they face April bills.

He expressed hope that state and federal rescue packages will “at least keep people afloat” during the crisis.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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