What health officials have learned about COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota

As of Tuesday, medical records of 146 of 405 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Minnesota have been evaluated.
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Seventy-nine people in Minnesota have been confirmed to have died from complications due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2).

It's only been a little more than three weeks since the first death was reported by state health officials on March 21, but they are beginning to find some commonalities in fatal cases. 

Kris Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health, said Tuesday that they are in the process of doing an in-depth, Minnesota-specific evaluation of COVID-19 deaths.  

"The things that we've seen with some of our rough epidemiology is that 57 of the 79 cases have been in individuals associated with long-term care," Ehresmann said. "The other thing that we're looking at is presence of underlying health conditions."

She said that 98.5 percent of the 79 patients to die from the disease had underlying health conditions, although specific conditions have not been unveiled. The most clear commonality of the deaths in Minnesota is older age. 

The age range for deaths is 56 to 100 years old, but the median age is 87. 

"Our deaths [are] in older people with underlying health conditions who are in long-term care settings," said Ehresmann, speaking in generalized terms. 

A study of Minnesota's 405 hospitalized patients (as of April 14) so far has yielded results for 146 medical records. Of those 146, 53 patients required an intensive-care unit bed. Twenty-five of those 53 patients were intubated and placed on a ventilator to help them breathe. 

Nine of the 25 to have been intubated died while six survived and the status of the 10 are pending. 

Note: A long-term care facility is a congregate setting like a nursing home, group home, memory care, or assisted-living center. As of Tuesday, there 65 long-term care facilities that have had at least one resident, staff, contractor or visitor with a confirmed positive test for COVID-19. Not all facilities have ongoing transmission of the virus, and facilities with fewer than 10 beds for residents have not been named in the health department's report

Underlying conditions that may increase risk for severe illness

Because the novel coronavirus is a new disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says "there is limited information regarding risk factors for severe disease."

"Based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19," the CDC website says. 

Asthma has not been confirmed by the Minnesota Department of Health as a specific underlying condition that has led to more serious illness from COVID-19, but it's among the more prominent risk factors identified by the CDC. 

"People with moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. COVID-19 can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), cause an asthma attack, and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease," the CDC says. 

Other leading risk factors, according to the CDC, are: 

  • People 65 years and older
  • People in congregate care facilities
  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised
    • Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications
  • People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • People with liver disease

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