ST. PAUL -- Health officials on Saturday, March 21, confirmed the first death in the state from COVID-19.

The person, who died Thursday, March 19, was a Ramsey County resident in their 80s. The patient had recently contracted the illness from a family member, a person who was known to have developed the illness after traveling internationally.

According to Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann, the state's first fatality from the pandemic outbreak developed symptoms on March 13, was hospitalized March 16, and passed away March 19.

"This person did have an underlying medical condition in addition to the risk factor of their age," said Ehresmann in an afternoon teleconference Saturday.

“Gwen and I extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones during this time of loss,” said Gov. Tim Walz in a statement. “As COVID-19 continues to spread in Minnesota, we must all do what we can to keep each other safe.”

Also on Saturday, the state reported 22 new coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide count to 137, a number the state cautions is an undercount. When asked if the actual Minnesota case count could be as much as 11 times higher than that identified through testing -- a projection of the undercount nationwide -- Ehresmann said "that's a conservative estimate. It may be higher than that."

People were newly diagnosed with COVID-19 from five counties not previously known to have residents with the illness -- St. Louis, Wabasha, Jackson, and Dodge counties, who all now have a single identified case. There were also two new cases in Steele County. Other counties to add cases Saturday included Hennepin, Ramsey, Blue Earth, Olmsted, Mower, Martin, Washington and Wright. In all, coronavirus cases have been confirmed in 26 counties.

"If a county has not had a case identified that does not mean there is not COVID-19 circulating," Ehresmann said. "We're seeing a general shift towards more and more community transmission.We do believe the virus is circulating around the state, regardless of whether a person is in a county that has reported cases."

One of the new cases was a 10-year-old, the first child diagnosed in the state. Ehresmann said the child was home-schooled. Cases in the state range from age 10 to 94, with a median age of 44. Ehresmann said six patients are currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19, with four of those patients in intensive care.

The state continues to be hobbled by a lack of basic information and supplies. When asked if the state would develop the ability to report the total number of tests conducted on Minnesotans, Ehresmann said those figures are hampered by the participation of labs based out of state. Though it announced on Friday they are now able to test 3,000 patients daily, Mayo Clinic provided just 32 results to the state Friday.

State health officials have begun to turn their attention from the counting of new cases to preparing for an approaching crush of patients at the state's hospitals. In order to preserve personal protective equipment and ventilator supplies, Walz on Thursday ordered hospitals to cease all elective services, then assigned the National Guard to redistributing the equipment.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump effectively handed the approaching and deadly problem of ventilator shortages back to the states. “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” the president reportedly told the nation's governors during a recent conference call. "We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves."

It was not lost on state leaders.

"That actually is something the governor is looking at and beginning to have conversations about," said Jan Malcolm, state health commissioner, of the state's vibrant medical supply industry, a roster of firms including ventilator manufacturer Medtronic, which recently announced plans to double its production. "He is grateful that a lot of Minnesota companies are stepping up and asking what they can do to repurpose some of their manufacturing capability in order to make what we need.

"Historically, the federal government, through the strategic national stockpile, has been kind of our go-to resource," Malcolm said. "It doesn't seem to be working, at least right now. Which kind of does suggest that it's time for us to really be creative and see what we can do to create some of our own capacity here."

The state has now tested 4,090 people, after testing 225 persons Friday. In order to conserve limited testing supplies, it is only testing health care workers, the hospitalized and people in long-term care. Private testing centers are encouraged to test all others and are taking patients after screening by their providers.

Also this week, Mayo Clinic tightened its restrictions governing how many visitors are allowed to enter its premises. Starting Sunday, March 22, its Rochester hospitals and emergency room will take no visitors, making exceptions only for hospitalized children, patients hopsitalized for childbirth and end-of-life care. Outpatient offices will allow one visitor only.

The state health department advises people who develop respiratory symptoms and a fever who are able to manage their symptoms at home to self-isolate for 14 days, or three days after the end of their fever, whichever is longest.

The CDC COVID-19 symptom checklist is here.

MDH COVID-19 hotline: (651) 201-3920.

Business impacts hotline: (651) 297-1304 or (800) 657-3504.

School and childcare hotline: (651) 297-1304 or (800) 657-3504.

MDH COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.

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