COVID-19 briefing: Vaccine preparations, Minnesota community surveys

COVID-19 briefing: Vaccine preparations, Minnesota community surveys Photo: KSTP-TV.

Rebecca Omastiak
Updated: September 16, 2020 04:00 PM
Created: September 16, 2020 03:34 PM

Wednesday, state health leaders addressed school response to COVID-19, vaccine preparations, and community surveys among other virus-related topics.

Here’s what was discussed:

Situation in Minnesota

Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported seven new deaths from COVID-19. So far, 1,933 people have died of the virus in Minnesota, including 1,402 in long-term care and assisted living facilities.

The department also reported 40 more hospitalizations Wednesday. To date, 7,019 patients have been hospitalized in Minnesota due to COVID-19.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the COVID-19 hospitalization situation in Minnesota remains “quite stable.”

According to MDH, there were 513 newly reported positive COVID-19 tests in Minnesota on Wednesday, bringing the state's total to 81,868 since pandemic record-keeping began.

MDH: 7 new COVID-19 deaths, 40 new hospitalizations

Malcolm said the state’s seven-day rolling test positivity rate is 4.8% currently, and the state has seen several days now with the rate below 5%, which Malcolm said is an important indicator. She added total testing week to week has increased and is currently at 6.4%.

In the midst of those indicators, Malcolm also stressed that state health leaders are watching, with concern, the rapid growth of cases in neighboring states. Additionally, Malcolm said leaders are still waiting to see the possible impact of Labor Day and students returning to school on the presence of the virus in Minnesota.

Malcolm called for “continued vigilance on everyone’s part.”

School response to COVID-19

MDH Director of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Kris Ehresmann said MDH has developed a new, 14-day case rate that can be used by schools, going forward as of Thursday.

With this new rate, Ehresmann said the focus has shifted from looking at the most recent data points to looking at the trend of the data.

With ongoing changes due to the virus, Ehresmann advised school policymakers to continue to be discerning when making decisions.

Vaccine preparations

During the conference call Wednesday, Ehresmann touched on a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “playbook” for states and localities on a COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

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Ehresmann said there are still a lot of unknowns about the vaccine. However, once available, the playbook indicates there would be a three-phase rollout of the vaccine.

The first phase would involve releasing a potentially limited supply of the vaccine to those in health care as well as high-risk individuals. The second phase would focus on increasing the availability of the vaccine to those groups. The third phase would focus on widespread vaccine availability.

Ehresmann said MDH is working to plan for a vaccine, but said complicated logistics plus uncertainty about availability and how many doses are needed are current challenges.

COVID-19 and mental health

MDH Medical Director Dr. Ruth Lynfield talked about a toolkit that will be made available on MDH’s website for health care workers that provide mental health resources.

Lynfield said it is imperative that there is support for those in health care, particularly when it comes to caring for their mental health.

The toolkit includes fact sheets, resource guides and supplementary documents to support mental health and resiliency.

More information can be found here.

Community surveys

Lynfield said MDH is conducting a modified Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER, survey to learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting communities throughout the state.

Lynfield said the CASPER survey was developed by the CDC as a way to assess the public health emergency response, and has been used after hurricanes, oil spills and even the Zika virus outbreak.

In this case, Lynfield said the CASPER survey is being used to learn more about how COVID-19 is spreading in communities.

More information about the survey can be found here.

Other items of note

Here are some other items discussed during the conference call:

COVID-19 and pregnancy: According to Ehresmann, data collected in Minnesota through August 31 indicated that 999 women reported being pregnant at the time of their COVID-19 infection. Ehresmann said 198 women were hospitalized after, or at, the time of their COVID-19-positive tests and 18 were admitted to the ICU. There were two deaths, but Ehresmann said one of those deaths did not necessarily occur at the time of the COVID infection.

Of 246 pregnant women who tested positive for COVID-19, there were 256 live births, two stillbirths, one termination and two miscarriages. Ehresmann said 36 babies were admitted to the NICU, 21 for prematurity, but were admitted for a variety of health reasons.

The return of Big Ten football, ongoing uncertainty about state sports: Malcolm said state health leaders appreciate the fact that high school leagues are carefully considering options and that league officials are asking for input along the way.

In general, Malcolm said there is a concern about events that increase close contact among large numbers of people. Malcolm added the virus is still circulating in communities. Outdoor sports tend to be less risky than indoor sports, but that high contact also increases risk. If there are to be more athletic events, Malcolm said, it will be important to be aware of risks and to comply with state health guidance.

Political campaign visits to Minnesota: This week, both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are set to visit Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz has issued a statement urging members of campaigning parties to follow state health guidelines, and Malcolm said she strongly hopes those guidelines are respected and that event organizers are aware.

Listen to the full conference call via the player below:

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