Health officials identified seven new cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota Saturday morning, including the first case in a rural county.
The state now has 21 confirmed cases of the virus and has tested 868 patients, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. One of the patients is hospitalized in critical condition and the other 20 are recovering from home.
Counties with at least one confirmed case now include Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Stearns, and Wright. The spread of the virus to Renville County marks the first confirmed case in rural Minnesota.
As of now, the state is testing at least one hundred people per day, but only individuals who are symptomatic. Gov. Tim Walz sent a letter Friday to Vice President Mike Pence asking the federal government to increase Minnesota’s access to COVID-19 testing kits to a minimum of 15,000 tests per month.
“We have been forced to ration the number of tests performed at our public health lab,” states the letter. “I call upon you to help ensure we appropriately prevent and mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Mayo Clinic announced Thursday that it has developed a new test for detecting the virus and submitted it to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.
“This test should help ease some of the burden that is currently being felt at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health laboratories,” William Morice II, president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, said in a press release. “We are doing everything we can to help relieve the burden during this time to provide answers for patients here in Rochester and around the world.”
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to the outbreak and said his administration has been in “discussions with pharmacies and retailers to make drive through tests available.”
Gov. Walz declared a statewide peacetime emergency during an hour-long press conference Friday and said his team is “working around the clock to combat the spread of COVID-19.”
“I am declaring a peacetime emergency in Minnesota to ensure the state is able respond to more rapidly to issues as they arrive. We’re looking to the future and preparing for the next chapters of this pandemic as it continues to evolve,” he said.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm issued a number of community mitigation strategies for Minnesotans to follow, including the cancellation of large events in excess of 250 people, providing space for social distancing of six feet per person at smaller events, and limiting gatherings with participants at high risk to less than 10 people.
The governor’s emergency declaration calls on the Minnesota Legislature to put together a response package that creates a COVID-19 emergency fund, removes financial barriers for Minnesotans who need to be tested, expands the use of paid sick time, and provides long-term care facilities with more resources.
Malcolm said there is no evidence yet of community spread in Minnesota, since all 21 patients appear to have either traveled to high-risk areas or had contact with someone who did. She said, however, that it would “be pretty naive” to think that community spread won’t happen in the state.
“I am reassured though that I can say it’s not widespread. If it was, we would be seeing it in the testing we’re doing and in the health care system,” she said. “Do I think it could very well be here? Yes I do.”
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