COVID-19 Daily Briefing: Focus shifts from COVID-19 to death of George Floyd; Reaction from Walz, Ellison

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The daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday by Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Health officials focused mostly on the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody on Monday.

The governor had a strong reaction to the incident that was captured on cell phone video.

"Like so many Minnesotans and so many people across the country and across the world. I was shocked and horrified by the video of George Floyd’s death," the governor said. "It’s very clear to anyone that what happened to George Floyd is wrong. The lack of humanity in the video as I said made me physically ill and even more difficult to understand."

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a Native American, also had a strong reaction.

"I’m also outraged that Minnesotans, especially black Minnesotans and black Americans are experiencing the collective trauma of a black man dying at the hands of law enforcement once again," she said on a video feed into the governor’s news conference. "George Floyd should be alive today."

Attorney General Keith Ellison and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington were more measured in their comments and promised swift and fair justice.

"The investigation has started, both state and federal," Ellison said. "If you have information we need you to come forward and share it. It is very important the ivnestigation is thorough, it is fair and it is just."

As commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, Harrington oversees the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension which is conducting the state investigation.

"The process that we’re undertaking, it will be factual, it will be objective, it will be lawful and that we will produce an honest report to the prosecuting attorney so they can make a good decision about criminal charging," Harrington said.

He added the BCA investigation should take a "matter of weeks," rather than months.

‘Swift action’ promised: Walz, state leaders address investigations following death of George Floyd

US reaches new milestone

During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Tim Walz addressed the fact that the United States reached a milestone in virus deaths.

Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

"In the U.S. we could be looking at a long pandemic summer with a slow burn of cases and deaths," Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, told the Associated Press. "There’s also reason to be concerned about a new wave of infections in the fall. So, we’re definitely not out of the woods yet."

Meanwhile, half of Americans may be willing to get vaccinated if scientists are successful in developing a vaccine, according to a new poll released Wednesday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

AP-NORC poll: Half of Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccine

In terms of virus deaths in Minnesota, Walz said the pace of deaths in the state "is stable," which helps provide state health officials with opportunity to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in MInnesota’s communities.

Situation in Minnesota

Minnesota has reported 510 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and 33 new deaths.

The new statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on Wednesday raised the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 932 and its confirmed case count to 22,464.

Minnesota tops 900 COVID-19 deaths; 22,464 total cases

The department also reported one new probable but unconfirmed COVID-19 death to raise the state’s total 10.

The department said 598 people were hospitalized as of Wednesday, up 28 from Tuesday with 260 in intensive care, a new one-day high.

Eighty percent of the state’s 1,257 ICU beds were in use, with a surge capacity of over 1,000 more.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm expressed concern over this rate of growth in need for ICU beds, stating officials have planned for it and hospitals do have surge capacity, but that it’s important to note some hospitals have already have gone into surge area. Malcolm said health officials are closely watching hospitalizations.

Malcolm said there is a moderate rate of growth toward reaching a state peak in June or July.

Testing in Minnesota

State leaders said more than 10,000 people were tested for COVID-19 during the holiday weekend.

When asked whether health officials had received any information on resulting asymptomatic cases, Malcolm said they haven’t yet gotten a breakdown of test results but that officials are hoping the results will have helpful data. She added there is helpful data coming from state health care systems that are testing a variety of patients, including those coming in for different procedures.

In terms of testing efforts at long-term care facilities, Malcolm said health officials have completed a significant amount of testing thus far and that the goal remains to test those at all long-term care facilities in the state.

What’s ahead

Walz reported he has newly reviewed guidelines for the upcoming second phase of the "Stay Safe MN" plan, set to go into effect June 1.

Walz said he has had extensive conversations with business owners and community members as the dial moves and said he and other state leaders are continuing to look at next steps.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.