COVID-19 Briefing: MDH commissioner reminds Minnesotans of ‘new normal’ as holiday weekend approaches

Wednesday, state health leaders addressed continued efforts to combat COVID-19, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in Minnesota children, and how to prevent the spread of the virus during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Here’s what was discussed:

Situation in Minnesota

Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported 426 new cases that have tested positive for COVID-19 and four additional deaths.

426 new COVID-19 cases, 4 additional deaths reported by MDH

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the daily increase in cases Wednesday was about the same as Tuesday’s numbers.

Additionally, Malcolm said one item of note is the median age of those who test positive for COVID-19 continues to fall. The median age is now 38.9, which is down 2.5 years in median age just in the month of June, a “notable” drop, Malcolm said.

COVID-19 and the upcoming holiday weekend

During the news conference Wednesday, Malcolm reiterated calls for Minnesotans to “stay vigilant” in working to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Malcolm acknowledged that the Fourth of July holiday is often an important time for friends and family to gather, but she reminded Minnesotans that we are in a new normal.

She advised participating in virtual visits and to keep in-person gatherings small and outdoors. She also reminded Minnesotans to continue wearing masks and to social distance.

Coverage for COVID-19 tests

When asked about billing matters related to COVID-19 tests, Malcolm said state leaders are aware this is an issue.

Malcolm said state health leaders want people to get tested when they experience symptoms and that billing as a result of testing continues to be "a work in progress."

Some of the billing is related to insurers making decisions on whether testing is related to care, Malcolm said.

Community testing was established to make testing more accessible for those needing it, Malcolm said. She added there is work to be done in the long-term strategy, in terms of how test costs are covered.

Malcolm said state health leaders are talking with insurers and said those who are billed for tests they believe should be covered can contact MDH or the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Bar, restaurant visits and COVID-19 cases

Referencing a situation in St. Cloud in which a large group of people reported testing positive for COVID-19, health leaders during the news conference Wednesday were asked what might be the tipping point to scale back bar and restaurant availability.

Malcolm said health leaders have been having regular conversations with hospitality industry leaders in the state, asking them to be aware of the state’s current executive order guidelines and make sure their businesses are following those guidelines.

She added health leaders are working to ensure the right steps are in place when enforcement is needed, which could include closures if a spike in cases can be traced to establishments.

Tobacco use and COVID-19

Malcom took some time during Wednesday’s news conference to address emerging information that the immune systems of those who use tobacco products can be more at risk for COVID-19.

Malcolm stated MDH is offering services to help those who want to quit smoking during this time. Information on those services can be found here.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a condition in which “different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs” and often occurs in children who have had COVID-19 or have been around someone with COVID-19.

According to MDH State Epidemiologist and Medical Advisor Dr. Ruth Lynfield, MDH reports there are currently 13 children with MIS-C symptoms.

Lynfield said those children developed symptoms between mid-May and mid-June.

Of the 13 cases, 11 presented evidence of having been infected with COVID-19, Lynfield said. Two were not confirmed by laboratory methods but had history of exposure to COVID-19.

Of the 13 cases, 77 percent were male, and eight of the children required intensive care. Lynfield said there were no deaths and the average age of those with MIS-C was 5.

Additionally, 73 percent of those children with MIS-C had no prior medical conditions.

Continued efforts to fight COVID-19 in Minnesota

Dr. John Hick, an emergency care physician at Hennepin Healthcare, spoke Wednesday about the state’s efforts to continue planning for, and fighting, COVID-19.

Hick said there continues to be a high demand for personal protective equipment.

However, Hick said there are additional agreements with 3M for mask production into the fall and winter, which will be helpful.

Hick also said there are continued plans to increase capacity both in statewide intensive care units and regular medical units. There are continued plans to increase staff and work is still being done on identifying and possibly setting up alternate care sites.

"I think anyone who thinks we’ll find a magic bullet for COVID-19 is probably hoping for a miracle … we just hope to keep the virus at bay and keep it from doing the most damage it can," Hick said, mentioning continued research into different medications and therapies to combat the virus.

"All these things are making a difference now, and as we buy more time with our social distancing and other measures we’ve put into place each week that goes by we learn a little bit more about how to treat these patients more effectively," Hick said. "Our outcomes continue to improve, we hope to continue to buy time, continue to learn, continue to get more robust resources into the state and have some time to continue to do some planning.

"The more time we have with this, the better we’re getting to know this enemy."

Listen to the full news conference via the player below: