ROCHESTER, Minn. — With just a week to go before a critical mid-April window once projected as the peak of coronavirus patients over-running Minnesota hospitals, Gov. Tim Walz and health officials pointed to encouraging signs that the state is slowing the spread of the virus, and pushing back the acceleration of new cases.
"Some of the models said the peak would have been here by now," said state health commissioner Jan Malcolm during the governor's daily press briefing. "I'm personally gratified to see the growth rate staying in a stable zone, but that could change any day."
Though Tuesday, April 7 marked another highest one-day jump in new cases with 83, and though the state added four deaths and seven ICU cases, these daily increases remain in the single digits, the state's hospitals have yet to see the system become swamped with patients, and the doubling rate is slowing.
"One of the ways in which we're trying to track the effectiveness of our slow-the-spread effort is the rate at which COVID-19 cases are doubling," said Malcolm. "We're happy to note that Minnesota so far is seeing a slower rate of doubling than we might have anticipated at this point."
In early March, Malcolm said, the state case total doubled every one to two days. Beginning with the social mitigation efforts instilled on the week of March 18, the state doubling rate has slowed to once every eight days.
"I want to thank all Minnesotans for being willing to make these incredible sacrifices," Walz said. "We are seeing some pretty strong indications that we are pushing that curve back, we are bending a little bit and we're giving ourselves time to assess where we're at and to make adjustments, with the hope of returning our lives to normalcy as quickly as we can."
"This wasn't by chance," Walz said. "This was very deliberate and well-executed by the people of Minnesota. All that being said, I am still very nervous about the lack of testing."
Malcolm and Walz walked a fine line between praising the state's progress, hinting at targeted relaxations coming on Wednesday of the now two-week-old stay-at-home order, and maintaining the public's investment in the strategy.
"We will continue on with a stay-at-home but try to refine that," Walz said of his first major recalibration of health emergency orders in two weeks, signalling that larger changes are not expected to come before May. "Our peak has been pushed out some. We're not going to give up on the things that are working, but I think we can add more things that work ... maybe by geography."
"A social compact made by all of us has bought us more time than any other state, and I want to use it wisely."
Roseau and Swift counties added cases for the first time on Tuesday, and another long-term care center, Riverview Landing in Wright County, has reported a case. The deaths on Tuesday were all among long-term care patients, and included a Dakota County resident in their 60s, a Winona County resident in their 90s, a Hennepin County resident in their 90s, and another Hennepin County resident in their 80s.
The statewide death total is now 34, and the total case count has passed 1,000 for the first time, reaching 1,069. The laboratory confirmed case count is widely believed to be a gross undercount however, and unrepresentative of a far greater total. The state demand on health care services remains far below the 2,750 ICU beds now available, suggesting a peak remains in the far distance.
Walz acknowledged a new web page established by the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, one tracking a key metric in a time of a shortage of testing, that of hospitalizations for coronavirus nationwide.
"We'll have time to get into this later, but that's FEMA's job," he added, a reference to the frustration felt by governors as local government and business have been tasked with fulfilling services ordinarily conducted by the federal government. "A federal coordinated response is meant to do that."
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.