Minnesota Public Radio News Staff
ST. PAUL — State officials said Thursday that a second Minnesotan has died from COVID-19 and that the number of residents testing positive for the disease jumped to 346, from 287 on Wednesday.
The second death involved a resident of Ramsey County in their 80s, the Health Department said. Last week, officials announced the first death linked to the disease was also a Ramsey County resident in their 80s.
The total number of people hospitalized from the disease stood at 31, up from 26 Wednesday. The state said 12,950 tests have been completed.
Four new cases occurred in south-central Minnesota, bringing the region’s total to 29.
Martin County had two new cases and 12 total, while Blue Earth and Waseca counties each had one new case. Blue Earth is up to six total cases, while Waseca has two.
Current hospitalizations rose from 26 to 31 between Wednesday and Thursday morning.
Talking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz said the age range of those affected in Minnesota runs from five months to 104. He urged Minnesotans again to stay home and help “break the chain” of the virus’ spread.
He also raised concerns about reports that Minnesotans of Asian descent are being targeted for hate speech or discrimination in the state, apparently because of the outbreak’s reported origin in China. “This virus is not going to discriminate and we’re not going to either,” he said.
The jump in cases from Wednesday to Thursday was among the largest single-day increases the state’s seen since the pandemic arrived. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said officials were bracing for more cases and casualties.
“I’m sorry to say we know we’ll be reporting more deaths in the days to come,” Malcolm said.
Thursday’s updated numbers came a day after Walz ordered Minnesotans to stay at home for two weeks, effective Saturday through April 10. Walz said the goal wasn’t intended to lessen the number of COVID-19 infections in the state, but rather to help Minnesota push off and brace for the coronavirus’ inevitable peak.
The governor said he expects COVID-19 to reach all of Minnesota’s 87 counties before the pandemic ends. “The circle is spreading.”
At the Capitol, the Minnesota House in a 99-4 vote Thursday backed a $330 million rescue plan that aims to head off some economic, health and spillover consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The state Senate planned to take up the bill later Thursday and send it to Walz.
The proposal, which came together in private, is the second COVID-19 related bill to get swift action from lawmakers in the past two weeks. Together, the two packages shell out more than $500 million, with top legislators saying there will be more actions to come.
Officials believe the number of COVID-19 cases is likely at least 10 times as high as the number of testing-confirmed cases and that an increasing number of people will likely require hospitalization in the coming weeks.
They remain especially concerned about the state’s ability to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients needing intensive care. The state had fewer than 250 intensive care beds open on Wednesday, Walz said, and officials need time to increase capacity.
Other goals of the order, Walz said, include increasing access to ventilators, other life-saving equipment, personal protective equipment for health workers and COVID-19 testing. He said officials must also make more plans for how to protect and care for populations most vulnerable to the coronavirus as it continues spreading.
Also under the order, on-site school closures last into early May. The state Education Department will be canceling the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, for the remainder of the current school year.
Nearly 80 percent of Minnesota jobs are considered essential under the order, said Steve Grove, the Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner. A list of those jobs is available at a state website. Liquor stores are among businesses that will remain open.
Grove said he expected about 28 percent of working Minnesotans to be temporarily jobless during the extended stay-home period. On Thursday he said there have been 182,000 applications for unemployment insurance since the COVID-19 crisis began, which is about 5.9 percent of the workforce.
As Walz continued to call on Minnesotans to keep their distance to help slow the spread of the disease, reporters asked him whether the Minnesota State Fair might be at risk of being called off or postponed from its historical late August-early September run.
The fair puts hundreds of thousands of people close together each year; Walz and other officials have expressed concerns that Minnesota and other states will be dealing with coronavirus cases through the summer.
“Minnesota does need the State Fair,” he said, adding that it was probably too early to make a call. “It would certainly be my hope by the time we got to that point, we’d have a handle on this thing.”