Novel coronavirus

Samples are tested for COVID-19 at the Minnesota Department of Health.

MPR News Staff and The Free Press

MANKATO — A member of the Minnesota State University community was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to an email sent to staff and students Tuesday by university President Richard Davenport.

“While the Minnesota Department of Health has determined that the risk of exposure at our university is low, my thoughts are with this individual and my wish for them is a speedy recovery,” he wrote.

Davenport said the university is working with the health department to notify people who came into contact with the individual. The university’s extended spring break runs through March 29 and classes are set to resume online on March 30.

Minnesota had 262 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, up from 235 Monday. The state continued to report only one death from the disease.

Blue Earth County had five total confirmed cases as of Tuesday morning. Nicollet, Waseca, Le Sueur and Martin counties all have cases as well.

Total cases in the south-central Minnesota counties rose from 18 to 22. All four new cases in the region occurred in Le Sueur County, bringing the county’s total to five.

At least 15 Minnesotans remain hospitalized with COVID-19. There are 88 people who no longer need to be isolated, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Across Minnesota, hospitals are racing now to prepare for an expected spike in patient care as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads.

Minnesota has 243 adult intensive care beds available with seven people currently in the ICU, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday, and that’s why it’s critical people continue taking measures aimed at “bending the curve.”

Walz also said preventative actions so far have slowed infection rates in Minnesota and dampened a potential spike, but cautioned that more waves of coronavirus cases will come and that continued mitigation efforts will need to last months.

Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management director, said officials are talking about the possibility of “alternative health care facilities” and said they’re working through possibilities such as setting up facilities in a motel or basketball gym.

“We’re in good shape now but we need to be prepared to expand that system very quickly,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Minnesota Hospital Association said it was pulling together plans to gather medical masks and inventory ventilators.

A Twin Cities team is working “to collect and get a visual on where this equipment is, where it should be warehoused, who needs it most and how to distribute it,” said Dr. Rahul Koranne, the hospital association president. “A lot is going on and we are actively preparing day and night.”

Koranne said it was too early to tell whether cases in Minnesota will exceed hospitals capacity to care for critically ill patients. He urged people to avoid personal contact to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Jobless claimsMinnesotans claims for unemployment insurance continue to soar following the closure of many restaurants and other businesses because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re up to 149,443 applications for unemployment insurance, about a third of those in the food preparation services industry,” Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said Tuesday.

Not everyone who applies for benefits may qualify, including people who are self-employed.

During the Great Recession, the number of people collecting unemployment benefits peaked at about 111,000 in June 2009, according to data collected by Grove’s agency. Minnesota’s unemployment rate hit 8 percent during the Great Recession and reached nearly 9 percent in the early 1980s.

3M, Ford to partner on personal protection gear

3M said it is turning to Ford Motor Co. to help ramp up production of some of its personal protection equipment for medical professionals.

3M said the car company will start producing its powered air purifying respirators. The full-face masks have a waist mounted, battery powered blower. They’re intended to provide respiratory protection for extended periods of time.

3M has doubled its production of smaller, N95 respirators, to nearly 100 million per month. They’re making 35 million a month in the U.S., most intended for health care applications.

Nurses seek donationsNurses report they are extremely short on masks to shield them from the novel coronavirus and other threats. They’re asking people with N95 masks to donate them.

Carrie Mortrud of the Minnesota Nurses Association said a nurse may normally use several masks during a shift but some are now asked to use the same mask for a week.

“Some nurses at some hospitals across the state are being told they have to use them for five shifts. From Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday to Friday,” Mortrud said.

Masks will be collected from noon to 2 p.m. through Sunday at the Minnesota Nurses Association Office at 345 Randolph Ave. in St. Paul. The masks will be passed on to the State Emergency Operations Center to distribute to nurses.

The association said as of Monday afternoon, it has collected more than 30,000 masks.

Free Press staff writer Brian Arola contibuted to this story. Follow him on Twitter @BrianArola.

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