Minnesota health officials on Monday reported the smallest daily COVID-19 death toll in over two months while saying they’re increasingly concerned that people with serious health problems who need emergency room care are not seeking that care because of coronavirus concerns.
It’s especially worrisome for people who might be suffering heart attacks, strokes or low blood sugar, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director. She cited national data showing double-digit percentage drops in emergency room visits compared to the weeks before it hit the United States.
“Our health care systems are ready to care for you safely” despite the pressure from COVID-19, she said on Monday.
Dr. Cameron Berg, interim medical director at North Memorial’s emergency department, said the hospital has seen a dramatic change since they started caring for COVID-19 patients.
“Our emergency department takes care of roughly 200 patients on an average day in the springtime. And within a couple of weeks of COVID landing, those volumes had gone down by nearly 50 percent,” Berg said.
The Robbinsdale hospital saw drops across the board, including for heart attacks and strokes.
“We have no reason to suspect that there will be a dramatic reduction in heart attacks just due to the lifestyle modifications that people have made for COVID.”
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday, in the 10 weeks following the declaration of COVID-19 as a national emergency, emergency rooms saw a 23 percent drop in heart attack patients, a 20 percent stroke patients and a 10 percent drop in uncontrolled high blood sugar.
Here are the latest coronavirus statistics:
33,227 cases confirmed via 513,137 tests
3,830 cases requiring hospitalization
332 people remain hospitalized; 156 in intensive care
29,065 patients no longer needing isolation
Ehresmann and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm also reiterated ongoing worries that parents are not keeping up with regular vaccinations for their children because of COVID-19 fears.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the number of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine doses given out this year has been down by as much as 70 percent, from the same week in 2019, though that gap narrowed to around 35 percent last week.
Children’s Minnesota, the pediatric hospital system in St. Paul and Minneapolis, says it has dispensed far fewer vaccines than normal.
“When we look at Children's in terms of total doses, we'll give between 800 and 1,000 infant vaccines a month. And during the pandemic, we dropped down to right around 400, or less than 400 a month,” said Patsy Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner in infectious disease at Children’s. “We know that there's children that are out there that are under-immunized and potentially could become sick with a vaccine-preventable disease.”
Stinchfield said this month the number of vaccinations is rising, but still not quickly enough. “What we worry most about is measles because it's so contagious,” Stinchfield said.
Children’s has opened up drive-up immunizations to make them more convenient. They’re also encouraging families to vaccinate their children.
Health Department officials say this year it’s very important for people to get their influenza vaccine, as the flu looks similar to COVID-19 but can also take up medical resources through the winter.
Of the 33,227 cases of COVID-19 confirmed since the pandemic began, about 87 percent of people have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.
Among those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living at the time; nearly all those who’ve died had prior health problems.
Malcolm again implored Minnesotans to continue socials distancing and wear masks in public spaces to help minimize the spread of the disease. While deaths remain concentrated among higher age groups, three people in their 30s have died.
Malcolm also noted that 40 is now the median age of Minnesotans confirmed with the disease.
Meatpacking hot spots remain
Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.
That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 802 confirmed cases as of Monday.
Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.
While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.
Health officials held a COVID-19 testing push in Austin, Minn., over the weekend.
Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,632 confirmed cases Monday. About 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although there have only been a few additional cases recorded the past few days.
Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.
Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May.
An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Monday, confirmed cases were at 2,137 with 19 deaths.
Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.
As of Monday, the Health Department reported 560 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Sunday.
Cases have also climbed noticeably in Cottonwood County, home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County, around a turkey processor in Marshall.