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Live updates: Walz announcement likely on Wednesday

Here are the latest developments on the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Tuesday, May 12

  • Gov. Walz faces decisions on peacetime emergency, Stay at Home
  • First batch of newly approved drug remdesivir distributed in Minnesota
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci warns of 'needless suffering and death' if U.S., states reopen too soon
  • Public deployment ceremony for 700 departing MN soldiers scrubbed by COVID-19

11:30 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz has scheduled a live televised address for Wednesday at 6 p.m. to update Minnesotans on the state's emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the 10-minute address Gov. Walz is expected to say whether he'll extend the state of peacetime emergency, which allows him to make temporary executive orders without prior approval of the legislature.  He has issued 52 of those orders since early March, in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state and buy time for the medical system to expand its intensive care treatment capacity.

That peacetime emergency expires Wednesday, and lawmakers have recently debated the wisdom of extending it. DFL legislative leaders say it's important for the governor to have to option of emergency powers in case he has to move quickly, although all of his decisions will eventually be subject to review or expire.

Republicans have said the legislature has ceded too much power to the governor during the crisis, and that lawmakers are being left out of critical decisions about when to reopen different parts of the economy.

The governor is also considering changes in restrictions for small businesses. He has compared the state's response to a dial that must be turned gradually to prevent widespread outbreaks and sudden surges in demand for hospital care.

According to the governor's office, Walz's Wednesday night speech will be followed by a conference call allowing the media to ask follow-up questions.

5 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz is expected to make an announcement on Wednesday regarding the state of Minnesota's fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor's office has not confirmed the nature of any announcement, but decisions are looming for the governor on Minnesota's Stay at Home order and peacetime emergency status.

The state's peacetime emergency order is set to expire on Wednesday without an extension. The current Stay at Home order is scheduled to expire a few days later, at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, May 17.

During a media briefing earlier Tuesday, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman did say she expects Walz will extend the peacetime emergency, which gives the governor expanded powers to take certain actions without legislative approval.

2 p.m.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said we surpassed 5,000 tests in the last 24-hour period, one of the biggest COVID-19 testing days so far.

The state got a second shipment of remdesivir, which is being sent to the points of care.

Malcolm said the new  safety measures for long-term care facilities are being implemented but said it's something that will take days or even weeks.

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said the state's COVID-19 situation update page will be getting a revamp Wednesday. 

One of the changes will be the inclusion of deaths believed to be from COVID-19, which are deaths that list COVID-19 in the death certificate but have no positive lab test to confirm them.

This list will be different from the deaths that do have a positive COVID-19 test.

Ehresmann addressed reports of people being turned away from testing by saying that all symptomatic patients should be able to receive testing, and that if clinics don't have the supplies they should reach out to the state.

11 a.m.

The human toll of COVID-19 passed another milestone Tuesday, when the number of Minnesotans who have lost their lives to the virus climbed above 600.

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) officials reported that 23 more people died from complications of the coronavirus in the past day, pushing total fatalities in the state to 614. Of those deaths, 504 of them, or 82%, have occurred in long-term care or assisted living settings. The median age of those who died from COVID-19 is 83.

Positive cases climbed by 695 to a total of 12,494 since the pandemic began. Factor in that 120,834 tests have been completed in private and state labs to date, that means one in every ten Minnesotans tested was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday 496 people were hospitalized with the virus, 199 of them with symptoms severe enough to require treatment in the ICU. A total of 1,799 patients have been admitted to hospitals across Minnesota since the arrival of COVID-19. 

Recoveries are on the rise as well: MDH reports that 8,223 patients diagnosed with the virus have recovered enough to no longer require isolation.  

MDH says exposure in 20% of the state's positive cases likely occurred in a congregate living setting (residents and staff), while 16% were exposed in the community to a known source and 14% of cases were exposed in the community to an unknown source. Health care settings account for 5% of the exposures, while travel is cited in 4% of transmissions. Health officials say 40% of cases were exposed to an unknown source.

Monday, May 11

Nick Schiller of Hastings is among some 700 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard's Mankato-based 2nd Battalion 135th Infantry who will deploy later this month – first to Camp Ripley, and then to Fort Bliss in Texas for additional training. The unit’s final destination will be the Horn of Africa, with Djibouti serving as their base of operation in the global war on terrorism. 

Schiller will likely be there until May of next year, but there will be no deployment send-off ceremony, as is traditional for the Minnesota National Guard. Concerns of family members or friends passing COVID-19 on to members of the unit caused commanders to opt for a private ceremony once training at Camp Ripley is complete.

2 p.m.

Health providers in the state began using a new COVID-19 treatment drug over the weekend, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

Minnesota received a small initial shipment of remdesivir that was distributed Saturday night and Sunday morning to those with severe cases, according to state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield.

The recently FDA-authorized drug was shown to reduce the hospitalization period for those with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Those with the drug were discharged after 11 days on average, compared with 15.

Patients in Minnesota with severe, lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 may qualify to receive the drug, Lynfield said. Distribution is based on some combined ethical and medical guidelines from MDH and the FDA. The patients who receive it in Minnesota will get a 10-day course. Lynfield said more robust national data will offer more insight into the effectiveness of the drug than local data, because there are so many variables.

"We are collecting information on hospitalized patients" with confirmed cases of COVID-19, Lynfield said. "So we will have data coming out, not solely related to people on remdesivir, but in general, because we do have a lot of questions. And we are collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control on that surveillance as well as a lot of other states."

RELATED: White House to direct supply of COVID-19 drug remdesivir amid access fears

One third of the state's confirmed cases are in Hennepin County, and Hennepin and Ramsey Counties combined make up 40% of the state's total cases, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said on the department's daily briefing call Monday. About half of the new cases reported Monday were in those two counties, as well.

Malcolm said seven counties have outbreaks in food processing plants, and those cases account for about a third of the new cases. Those outbreaks, she said, are beginning to level off.

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said they are continuing to see cases associated with processing plants, manufacturing, and other essential industries where employees cannot work from home or social distance properly.

"In many of those facilities there has been testing ... for all employees," she said. But the first piece of guidance from MDH is that those plants do aggressive employee screening before letting anyone in the building. 

Ehresmann said if there is a fear about employee safety, MDH partners with the Department of Labor and Industry, which is the regulatory branch over those facilities. She said she is not aware of any plants that are looking to close in the near future. 

RELATED: Here are the coronavirus cases confirmed in MN, WI

RELATED: White House recommends testing all nursing home residents and staff

As testing ramps up in Minnesota, Ehresmann said the department is expecting "many, many more" positive coronavirus test results. They are working to expand the case investigation capacity of the department, which has been challenged by the volume of positive tests as well as language barriers with some patients.

Ehresmann said a key factor is that MDH needs people to respond when they reach out to conduct contact tracing.

There has been a decline in the rates of Minnesota children getting their recommended vaccinations since the pandemic began, according to Ehresmann. She urged parents to keep bringing their kids to their well-child check-ups.

Dental offices are allowed to resume "elective care" on Monday, Ehresmann said, but they need to consider a number of factors including their personal protective equipment (PPE) supply.

MDH responded to questions about a fifth scenario added to Minnesota's COVID-19 modeling, which projected that if the Stay at Home order were extended through the rest of May, the peak could be pushed out until July 27. The top ICU demand would then be 4,000, according to the model, and the death toll could be approximately 25,000, with a significant margin of error.

Several other scenarios show a peak ICU demand and mortality rate that are lower than scenario five.

State Health Economist Stefan Gildemeister said the scenario simply shows the relationship between longer reduction in person-to-person contact, and the timing of the peak.

"As the virus doesn't get transmitted because of the reduction in contact, the time to when the economy would be opened up and the virus again would begin transmission among the general population, that sort of dynamic delays the peak," said State Health Economist Stefan Gildemeister.

Gildemeister asked reporters to give him and fellow researchers a few more days to answer questions about the models, as they are planning to release updated projections this week.

Malcolm said the current version of "scenario five" is out of date because the model needs to be re-run with newer data.

Gildemeister said the higher mortality rate associated with a longer stay-at-home order, at least in this model, may be the effect of pushing the spread of immunity out further.

11 a.m.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is again sharing numbers that reflect an effort to increase COVID-19 tests while identifying those who test positive to contain spread of the virus.

MDH says 528 Minnesotans have tested positive in the last day, bringing the total of those infected by the coronavirus to 11,799. An additional 4,693 tests were performed in private and state labs, bringing the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 115,781.

Of those diagnosed with COVID-19, the median age is 44.

Thirteen more Minnesotans died of complications from COVID-19 over the last day, bringing the total number of fatalities to 591. Of those deaths, 472, or nearly 80 percent, have occurred in long-term care or assisted living facilities. The median age of those dying from the virus in Minnesota is 83. 

As of Monday 452 people are being treated for the coronavirus in Minnesota hospitals, with 194 in ICU. Both numbers are near the top of single day totals. Health officials say 1,716 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Hennepin County reports 3,744 cases of coronavirus, by far the most of any Minnesota county. Health officials continue to express concern about Stearns and Nobles Counties, which have relatively small population bases but a higher number of cases. Stearns reports 1,443 positive tests for COVID-19, while Nobles reports 1,269.

RELATED: Minnesota slower to 'reopen' than other states

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11.

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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