As with all but one of the previously identified cases in the state, the seven new cases are recovering at home, said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease division director with the Minnesota Department of Health, on a conference call Saturday, March 14. All had a domestic or international travel history to regions of heightened concern, or out-of-state contact with someone known to have COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
Three of the cases were people in their 60s, three were in their 30s, and one is a teenager, officials said. The new cases were residents of Stearns, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Renville counties. Hennepin County had three new cases identified Friday.
Ehresmann said the teenager, a resident of Dakota County, was not a student in the school system. She declined to state whether any of the new cases had an underlying health condition.
“As we see more and more cases over time, we will be able to provide more details about their health status when they have been aggregated,” Ehresmann said. “But as we have a limited number of cases, we have to be cautious about the number of details we can provide in order to protect patient privacy.”
The health department tested over 300 samples Friday, a jump from previous days, one that Ehresmann characterized as due to heightened awareness of the outbreak. She said testing remains discriminately administered within the state, due in part to shortages in testing materials available through a global supply chain. She added that the case counts presented by the health department are inclusive of results generated from private labs coming online, albeit with the potential for delay.
“Up until recently, we have been the only lab that has been providing testing,” said Ehresmann. “In the last few days some commercial labs have come online as well. COVID-19 is a reportable disease in Minnesota so as these labs do testing, they will reporting their results to the Minnesota Department of Health. It will probably be a 24-hour situation, but we will get their results, and get them out to the public.”
Mayo Clinic tested 90 patients on Friday, according to published reports, with all results returning negative.
When asked about rumors of cases in northern Minnesota, Ehresmann said that the presence of new cases in a region will be reflected in the daily health department updates.
“We know there are lots of rumors that are swirling,” Ehresmann said. “As we mentioned, our lab is testing hundreds of people every day, so I’m sure that contributes to the rumors . . . at this point we don’t have anyone with a county of residence in the northeast part of the state. When we get that we will certainly make that known.”
Health officials also elaborated on the social distancing recommendations announced Friday. After signing an executive order declaring a peacetime state of emergency, Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials announced a formal recommendation that Minnesotans no longer gather in groups larger than 250 people, and extended that recommendation to lesser-populated groups in close quarters.
“We’re also recommending that smaller events of fewer than 250 people that could be held in crowded auditoriums and rooms that don’t allow people to spread apart, that those should be evaluated, postponed or canceled,” Ehresmann said. The state has also recommended no gatherings of even 10 people if they are elderly or in poor health.
“We want people to heed these recommendations,” Ehresmann said. “We’re not asking malls to close, or saying that you can’t run to the grocery store or go to a birthday party. We’re just asking people to use good judgment, and to absolutely stay home if they are sick.”
In Minnesota there have been 868 patients tested to date. The MDH COVID-19 webpage had over 500,000 visits on Friday, officials said. The MDH Coronavirus hotline is 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903 and is now open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
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