It only takes simple math to see that more than 7 percent of all Minnesota patients to have a laboratory confirmed case of COVID-19 have died.
But health officials in Minnesota claim that this doesn't accurately portray the situation because until recently most tests for the new coronavirus have been reserved for residents of long-term care facilities, healthcare workers and hospitalized patients.
In total, 286 of 3,816 patients to be confirmed to have had the virus have died, and 223 of the 286 fatalities were residents of long-term care facilities. State health leaders expect the death rate for confirmed cases to level off as testing increases.
"One thing that we want to acknowledge is that our testing in Minnesota, when we were at the point of limited testing resources, we were focusing on the highest risk populations," said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health.
"The majority of our testing was being done in long-term care settings. Our population was not representative of the broad population in Minnesota. We were oversampling in our long-term care settings where we have the most vulnerable individuals and where we would expect to see the greatest number of deaths."
Nonetheless, Ehresmann's explanation doesn't reference the fact that many other states have also prioritized testing for the most vulnerable amid nationwide shortages in testing supplies.
Wisconsin, for example, gives highest priority for testing to those in long-term care and other congregate living situations, as well as those in the ICU with respiratory failure.
It's also noticeable that Minnesota's death rate in long-term care facilities is high compared to other states. Deaths in long-term care account for about three-quarters of Minnesota's total deaths, while in Wisconsin they account for about one-third.
It should be noted that Minnesota's death rate when compared to confirmed cases is much higher than what the actual rate is, because there are possibly up to 100 times as many undiagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the state, with most of those people recovering from the disease.
Comparing death rates of Midwest states based on population
A better way to look at Minnesota's death rate compared to other states is to multiple the number of COVID-19 deaths by 100,000, divided by the state's population, which is approximately 5.64 million people. Through that calculation, you can determine deaths per 100,000 residents. Here's how Midwest states compare:
- Illinois: 14.8 deaths per 100,000 residents (1,874 deaths)
- Indiana: 12.5 deaths per 100,000 residents (844 deaths)
- Ohio: 6.1 deaths per 100,000 residents (711 deaths)
- Minnesota: 5.1 deaths per 100,000 residents (286 deaths)
- Wisconsin: 4.6 deaths per 100,000 residents (266 deaths)
- Kansas: 4.1 deaths per 100,000 residents (120 deaths)
- Iowa: 4.0 deaths per 100,000 residents (127 deaths)
- Nebraska: 2.7 deaths per 100,000 residents (53 deaths)
- North Dakota: 2.0 deaths per 100,000 residents (16 deaths)
- South Dakota: 1.1 deaths per 100,000 residents (10 deaths)
Effectively, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being deadlier in Minnesota than it is in other states.
"We've perhaps been more successful than other states in preventing deaths among the general population," said Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the state health department.
Minnesota's goal in the next 2-3 weeks is to ramp up testing to 20,000 per day. Testing has increased slightly over the past week, with five consecutive days resulting in between 2,200 and 2,850 tests.
"We hope that we'll get to the point that we're testing everyone that needs to be tested," said Ehresmann.