Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday, May 6 took up a bill that would set up a contact tracing program under the Department of Health and fund the program and bring on employees to staff it.

Assistant Department of Health Commissioner Margaret Kelly on Wednesday told state lawmakers the department hoped to bring on 4,200 contact tracers to map out COVID-19 spread in Minnesota, up tenfold from prior estimates.

The measure would also prevent employers from blocking health care employees from working as contact tracers temporarily if they've been furloughed or placed on unpaid leave.

The state currently has 310 employees working to trace cases across the state. By comparison, Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million, hired 9,000 contact tracing personnel. To match that ratio, at 5.6 million residents, the state of Minnesota would require 4,500 contact tracing staff.

The death toll from COVID-19 in Minnesota grew by 30 on Wednesday, 24 of the losses in long term care. The new deaths, the highest one-day figure yet, increased the total number of lives lost in the state to 485.

The virus claimed one life each in Stearns, Ramsey, Nobles, Mahnomen, Dakota and an unknown county of residence, plus two lives in Anoka County, and 22 lives in Hennepin County.

The state reported 5,309 tests on Wednesday, but that number is believed to reflect a delay in reporting 1,800 tests from Tuesday.

North Dakota

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Wednesday a new task force that will focus on fighting COVID-19 in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area.

Cass County, the state's hardest hit area, accounts for more than 55% of active COVID-19 cases but only about 22% of the total tests done in the state.

Burgum said the task force led by Desi Fleming, the director of Fargo Cass Public Health, will employ the same tactics the state has been emphasizing, including tracing close contacts of known cases and isolating infected residents.

The governor noted that testing in the area will still focus on health care workers, residents identified as close contacts of infected people and vulnerable populations, like residents of nursing homes and inmates in correctional facilities. He said Fargoans and residents of Moorhead who receive medical care across the border can get tested for COVID-19 if they experience symptoms.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday announced six more residents have died from COVID-19, a single-day high since the outbreak began in mid March.

Thirty-one North Dakotans have now died from the illness that has claimed more than 70,000 lives nationwide.

Five of the deaths came from Cass County, which encompasses Fargo and West Fargo. Twenty-three residents of the state's most populous county have now succumbed to the illness.

The department also announced 57 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The total number of positive tests for the virus in the state is up to 1,266, but 559 people have recovered from the illness, including 23 announced Wednesday. There are 32 residents hospitalized with the illness.

South Dakota

South Dakota Gov. Noem said Wednesday that as of right now, she didn't think the state would need to call for a special session in June to address state issues surrounding the pandemic.

"We did talk about the potential for a special session, and I told them I didn’t have very clear guidance on if we would need one and when that would be. I think originally the thought and conversation has been around having a special session in June, and I’m not sure that’s necessary at this point in time," Noem said.

South Dakota’s number of deaths from COVID-19 increased by five for a total of 29 deaths overall.

There are 773 active cases in the state, which decreased by 29 cases since Monday. A total of 2,779 confirmed positive cases have been reported in South Dakota, up 58 from Monday. Current hospitalizations are at 72, down three from Tuesday. There have been 230 hospitalizations in the state so far.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin teenagers eager to get their probationary driver's license will be able to do so without completing a road test beginning Monday.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles is waiving road tests for drivers under the age of 18 who have completed 30 hours of the required training and have permission from a parent or guardian.

The state health department reported 335 more cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin on Wednesday. There have been 8,901 positive cases reported so far, with 1,694 hospitalizations and 362 deaths.

Around the region

  • The pace of new cases has slowed in meat processing hotspots Kandiyohi, Martin and Nobles counties, but the numbers continue to climb in Stearns County, which posted another 160 cases Wednesday. The central Minnesota county, recently featured in a New York Times analysis as the fastest-growing hotspot in the country, now has 975 cases.
  • Secretary of the Minnesota Senate Cal Ludeman in an email to lawmakers and Senate employees said a Senate employee had been confirmed positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and senators and staff who'd interacted with that individual were notified and asked to self-quarantine. A spokeswoman for the Senate Republican caucus shared the contents of that email with reporters.
  • The North Dakota AFL-CIO and the North Dakota Women’s Network are calling for the state to adopt a paid family leave policy that would help workers and their families through difficult health issues. At least eight other states, along with many European and Asian countries, already have laws protecting families during times of sickness, maternity leave or pandemics; North Dakota has none.
  • North Dakota plans to hold a virtual graduation ceremony for high school students, state superintendent Kirsten Baesler said Wednesday. It will be at 2 p.m. CDT on May 30 and will be aired on ABC channels and Forum Communication Co. websites in North Dakota for free. The event will feature a message from Gov. Doug Burgum, a musical number from Tigirlilly and a nationally known speaker, Baesler said.

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