ST. PAUL -- Five more Minnesotans have died from COVID-19, health officials reported Wednesday, April 1 and 60 more cases have been laboratory confirmed, bringing the statewide total to 689 cases and 17 deaths.
According to preliminary information from the Minnesota Department of Health, among the fatalities were a 76-year-old resident of a congregate living facility in Winona, a 92-year-old resident of a congregate living facility in Hennepin County, an 81-year-old in Martin County, and an 81-year-old in Dakota County.
Continuing its striking disparity with surrounding counties, rural Martin County added four new cases, bringing its case count to 29.
Private labs conducted over 1,200 tests on Tuesday, vastly outproducing the 176 tests conducted by the state lab. Private labs, including Mayo Clinic, continue to produce five to six times the daily tests conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health. In his daily press conference, Gov. Tim Walz and Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm described unresponsiveness, misinformation and blame-shifting in Washington agencies and from President Donald Trump over the lack of testing materials and federal assistance.
"One of the frustrations that came up is the testing issue," Walz said on Wednesday of a shared call on Tuesday with all 50 governors.
“I haven’t heard about testing in weeks,” the president reportedly told the governors a day earlier. “We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests and we’re coming out with a faster one this week.”
Walz pointedly took issue with the statement.
"The frustration came up for me when I heard yesterday in a briefing that there is massive testing, it's just that the states don't know how to use it," Walz said. "I'm here to tell you not a single governor agreed with that, and not a single governor is not fretting over trying to get the testing measurements up in order to help our understanding. We all know how critical that's going to be as we come out of that first wave of illness."
Malcolm described a state health department that's been reduced to shuffling test kits as limited supplies run out, all the while facing only indifference in their attempts to engage with federal agencies established to assist in just these kinds of crises.
"As we have reported, we continue to monitor our test kits, supplies and the lab chemicals required to run those tests," Malcolm said. "As of today, we have enough chemical reagents to run about 600 tests. We don't foresee running out," she offered, albeit with the caveat that supplies for the state's highest-capacity testing platform are back-ordered until May 1, a period at the center of the expected approaching peak in cases.
"We have had multiple phone calls with the Department of Health and Human Services at the higher level," Malcolm said. "We've sent specific supply requests and not heard back. Congressman (Tom) Emmer's office made a request on our behalf and was told supplies were on their way. However, follow-up from his office to health and human services was not answered to the best of our knowledge.
"So none of the requested lab supplies that we have talked to health and human services about have materialized in Minnesota at this point." Malcolm praised state businesses and hospitals busy rolling out their own tests, but said applying new tests still requires swabs facing shortages and trained staff wearing personal protective equipment.
The governor also addressed concerns that some Minnesotans are not respecting the stay-at-home and social-distancing orders.
"Minnesotans have done a pretty good job," Walz said, "but we need to do better ... This is not about whether you feel good and want to get out and do this activity. This is about the fact that you may be an asymptomatic carrier and could hurt someone else or their family. You need to just assume you have it, and just assume whoever else out you see out there has it."
State health officials also reported the first confirmed cases in Crow Wing, Freeborn and Yellow Medicine counties on Wednesday, placing the illness in 55 of the state's 87 counties. Health officials caution that they believe these case and location counts are a substantial undercount, however, and that coronavirus is circulating widely in the state.
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Minnesota Department of Health 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.