ST. PAUL — A fifth person has died of COVID-19 in Minnesota, state health officials reported on Saturday, March 28. The person was an individual in their 70s with an underlying health condition who lived in Hennepin County.

So far, all five persons to have died of coronavirus in the state are said to have had an underlying health condition.

The state added 43 cases on Saturday, including the first recorded case in Clearwater County in northern Minnesota. The new confirmed case count stands at 441. Health officials said 30 patients are currently hospitalized with the illness in the state, with 13 in the ICU.

"There are many more cases in Minnesota, and we know that the virus is circulating in communities," said the Minnesota Department of Health's Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann in an afternoon call with reporters.

The age range of the 43 cases reported Saturday spanned from 2 to 73. "The 2-year-old is doing well," Ehresmann said.

Health officials said the health department has learned of 20 incidents within the last week which a resident or member of a congregate living facility has tested positive for coronavirus, events described as an "outbreak" by the health department and triggering outreach to the facility.

"In 10 situations it is only one staff person who has been identified as infected," Ehresmann said, "in eight situations it's illness within a resident, and in two situations there are both residents and at least one staff member who's been affected." While the health department reserves its tests for congregate living individuals housed in jails, homeless shelters and assisted living centers, all incidents so far have been in the latter.

Ehresmann added that for every case reported within a congregate living facility, the health department facilitates a letter of communication to families of the residents.

"We knew that we would see cases in this population, and that is our focus and our concern right now, because congregate living settings represent our highest risk populations," Ehresmann said. "So the fact that we are continuing to see cases in this population has our attention and we have teams in place to reach out to facilities."

Health officials report that over 16,000 Minnesotans have now been tested for the virus. The state conducted 361 tests on Friday, but a count of new tests contributed by private labs - principally Mayo Clinic Laboratories -- continued its rapid climb in daily testing, nearly doubling to 1,765 tests in one day, or almost five times the testing conducted by the state.

At 37 cases, Olmsted County, home of the Mayo Clinic, continues to post nearly as many or more confirmed cases as far more populous counties like Dakota (which has 33 cases) and Ramsey County (which has 42 cases), suggesting that greater testing would significantly raise the statewide total.

Thus far, the health department hasn't utilized the greater saturation of testing within Olmsted County as a vehicle to gain a more accurate determination of the spread of the illness. In the absence of a testing-based analysis, health officials reaffirmed the need for individual behavior change to slow the spread of the illness.

"We're asking everyone to be very self-aware and monitor for symptoms," said Ehresmann. "It would be far better should you start to feel crummy on a given afternoon if you removed yourself from whatever you are doing and isolate yourself. If you wake up the next morning right as rain, it's better to have done that just in case."

"If the population is focused on self-monitoring and isolating themselves and staying out of public when they have any symptoms, that would go a long way in reducing transmission."

Also on Saturday, Gov. Tim Walz signed  legislation authorizing $330 million in funding for COVID-19 assistance. The bill was approved by the state legislature on March 26. The funds come on top of $200 million unanimously passed by the state legislature on March 17, and an additional $21 million passed after that, bringing the state's emergency funding outlay total to $551 million.

"The swift, bipartisan passage of this bill is One Minnesota in action," Walz said in a statement. "Legislators put aside politics to fight the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of Minnesotans. We’re only in the early stages of Minnesota’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic – but this law will help ensure we have the right supports in place to prepare for what’s to come."

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MDH COVID-19 hotline: (651) 201-3920.

School and childcare hotline: (651) 297-1304 or (800) 657-3504.

MDH COVID-19 website:  Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.

Source: Minnesota Department of Health

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