COVID-19 Daily Briefing: Big testing increase over weekend, ICU hospitalizations experience expected spike

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State health officials addressed the latest updates on COVID-19 in Minnesota on Tuesday.

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm discussed the latest numbers, saying the case doubling rate is at 16 days. The minimum health officials would like is about seven, so the state is doing well in that regard.

Earlier Tuesday, MDH reported 652 new positive cases, pushing the state’s total to 21,960 cases. MDH also reported 18 additional deaths, moving the state’s total to 899. Malcolm said the median age of cases is 42, with the older population and those with underlying health conditions remaining at an elevated risk for COVID-19, but added that it’s important to note many younger people are also affected by the virus.

Malcolm spoke about long-term care facility staffing, saying it’s been a conundrum and has been an issue for a long time. State health centers have received some support through FEMA; they’re also working to see what other surge staffing can be provided from other places.

"We have to figure out a way to use all of the tools in the toolbox," Malcolm said. She added that the availability of people is critical.

Testing in the state is continuing to increase, with about 20,300 done over the past three days. She noted that the National Guard helped with those numbers, as several testing sites were available across the state this past weekend. In all, the National Guard supplied about 10,000 tests, which ended up being about 150% of what they originally thought they would be able to provide.

Regarding health plans continuing to waive co-pays, Malcolm said nearly all have agreed to do so through the end of September.

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Some other important takeaways from Tuesday’s call:

  • MDH awarded over $90 million in grants to primary care clinics, hospitals, first responders, long-term care facilities, etc. You can find more details on MDH’s website. The grants can help support a wide variety of things, including staffing, supplies, technology and telemedicine needs, which have been rising amid the pandemic, and more.
  • Director of MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology Kris Ehresmann said there was a spike in ICU hospitalizations recently. She says the high level of ICU need isn’t unexpected but they’re continuing to track capacity levels and are in regular contact with hospitals to address issues as they arise.
  • Regarding Minneapolis and Bloomington releasing guidance on restaurants expanding their services on June 1, Malcolm said "We’re in a pretty volatile phase," explaining why Gov. Tim Walz did not set dates for a reason. She said it takes about 14 to 21 days for something already happening to show up in health care data/testing results, so health officials will not even know the impact until weeks after it goes into effect. As long as restaurants are following proper guidelines and people are social distancing and wearing masks, Malcolm said she’d feel comfortable eat outdoors at restaurants.
  • Concerning staffing at long-term care facilities and hospitals, Malcolm said the surge capacity location has actual staff (not just on paper) but notes there’s a lot of demand for supplies and they recognize the importance of tracking those numbers. Ehresmann added staffing is also discussed on a regular basis with the Critical Care Center activating last week, which was planned but not on a crisis situation.
  • After testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases at the National Guard testing sites this past weekend, Malcolm said it’s a good initial indicator of data to work with. Ehresmann added that as they interview people, it will be helpful for them in making decisions in the future.