ROCHESTER, Minn. — As if to validate the decision this week by the city governments of Rochester and Mankato to impose mandatory mask orders, the state health department reported COVID-19 spikes in counties large and small on Tuesday July, 7.
Minnesota has 569 more laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus as of Tuesday, putting the new case total for the state at 39,133.
Health officials are currently weighing the merits of a statewide mask ordinance, moreover, by watching to see if the increased social activity over the Fourth of July weekend will bring a rise in new cases.
Late Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an order effective July 13 requiring the use of masks in the common areas of all courtrooms, an order that allows removal of the mask only when 6 foot distance can be maintained or if a person is behind plexiglass.
The order requires masks of everyone, including judges, attorneys, jurors and witnesses. Judges are given discretion to allow the removal of a mask if the person is able to maintain a six foot distance.
As the state's population center, Hennepin and Ramsey counties lead the new cases numbers with 139 and 54, but a slate of notable COVID-19 activity is now underway in rural Minnesota.
Stearns County in central Minnesota led the outliers on Tuesday with 43 new cases. New case numbers rose in suburban hotspots like Scott (28), Washington (25) and Carver (14) counties as well.
All were joined by new southern Minnesota COVID-19 activity in Blue Earth (19), Olmsted (18) and Lyon (11) counties. Northeastern Minnesota has a reemergence of the virus also, with St. Louis County posting 16 new cases on Tuesday.
The state reported three deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, one each in Dakota, Ramsey and Rice counties, the latter two among people in their 50s. The state reports 1,477 deaths from COVID-19 in total at the present time.
Testing was low again on Tuesday, with just 5,936 tests reported for the previous day. At 121 patients in the ICU with the illness, stress on the health care system continues to soften.
The reduction of time spent in the hospital was an early reason given for the state's enthusiasm for free shipments of the infusion antiviral remdesivir. The drug is losing its appeal in some quarters, however, due to criticisms over the value of its supporting data.
The drug was touted following a New England Journal of Medicine controlled trial that found it reduced symptomatic recovery time by four days, from 15 to 11 days on average. It has not been approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of COVID-19, but is being distributed by the federal government to states on an investigational basis.
The Minnesota Department of Health has made the distribution of the drug a focus of its briefings, and has developed and posted an eight-page ethics policy on how it has prioritized its distribution.
But as critics have recently noted, the NEJM study did not find that the drug actually reduced hospital stays, the drug's selling point among its champions.
While the drug did reduce symptomatic recovery time, critics of the drug say patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are likely remaining hospitalized for the same duration due to complications from underlying conditions.
Much like its unwarranted early embrace of the failed COVID-19 drug hydroxychloriquine, the United States has bought up all stocks of remdesivir globally, a move that has angered observers elsewhere.
No controlled study has yet found that remdesivir reduces death from COVID-19.
The NEJM trial that may have overstated the drug's effectiveness was funded by Gilead, the drug's manufacturer. Critics point out that the trial underwent several modifications that inflated its appearance of effectiveness, such as shortening its duration, unblinding the trial and changing the goal posts known as the "primary endpoint."
That study sits in contrast with an independentally-funded controlled trial of the drug published in the Lancet, a study which found no benefit to the drug at all.
Remdesivir's drugmaker recently announced they plan to charge $3,000 for a course of treatment.
"The remdesivir that we have distributed in Minnesota has been donated to the department of Health and Human Services by Gilead," said state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield in a press call on Monday. "So what we have distributed has not been charged to the patients."
"It is concerning to see the price tag that has been discussed for this drug," Lynfield added.
But Lynfield's concern was couched in statements supporting its desirability in the eyes of state health officials.
"Personally I'm worried about ensuring access to people who need it," Lynfieild said. "I don't know what the future will bring in terms of availability of the drug and coverage of the drug, so that is something that we are all paying attention to and I hope we will learn more."
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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.