Health care workers wave and watch community members parade past the front of M Health Fairview Ridges Hospital last month in Burnsville. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file
Health care workers wave and watch community members parade past the front of M Health Fairview Ridges Hospital last month in Burnsville.

State health officials on Tuesday reported another nine deaths related to COVID-19, putting the total at 1,393 since the pandemic began.

That daily rate of deaths, however, continues to slow. Tuesday marked the first time since mid-April that the state reported three consecutive days of deaths in the single digits.The counts of people currently hospitalized (339) and needing intensive care (158) — two closely watched metrics as officials try to manage the spread of the disease — ticked up from Monday but still showed an overall downward trend for the month.

The newest numbers come a day after Minnesota health officials said they’re increasingly concerned that people with serious health problems who need emergency room care are not seeking that care amid COVID-19 fears.

It’s especially worrisome for people who might be suffering heart attacks, strokes or low blood sugar, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Monday. She cited national data showing double-digit percentage drops in emergency room visits compared to the weeks before it hit the United States.

“Our health care systems are ready to care for you safely” despite the pressure from COVID-19, she said on Monday.

Dr. Cameron Berg, interim medical director at North Memorial’s emergency department, said the hospital has seen a dramatic change since they started caring for COVID-19 patients.

“Our emergency department takes care of roughly 200 patients on an average day in the springtime. And within a couple of weeks of COVID landing, those volumes had gone down by nearly 50 percent,” Berg said.

The Robbinsdale hospital saw drops across the board, including for heart attacks and strokes.

“We have no reason to suspect that there will be a dramatic reduction in heart attacks just due to the lifestyle modifications that people have made for COVID.”

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday, in the 10 weeks following the declaration of COVID-19 as a national emergency, emergency rooms saw a 23 percent drop in heart attack patients, a 20 percent stroke patients and a 10 percent drop in uncontrolled high blood sugar.

Ehresmann and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm also reiterated ongoing worries that parents are not keeping up with regular vaccinations for their children because of COVID-19 fears.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the number of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine doses given out this year has been down by as much as 70 percent, from the same week in 2019, though that gap narrowed to around 35 percent last week.

Children’s Minnesota, the pediatric hospital system in St. Paul and Minneapolis, says it has dispensed far fewer vaccines than normal.

“When we look at Children's in terms of total doses, we'll give between 800 and 1,000 infant vaccines a month. And during the pandemic, we dropped down to right around 400, or less than 400 a month,” said Patsy Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner in infectious disease at Children’s. “We know that there's children that are out there that are under-immunized and potentially could become sick with a vaccine-preventable disease.”

Stinchfield said this month the number of vaccinations is rising, but still not quickly enough. “What we worry most about is measles because it's so contagious,” Stinchfield said.

Children’s has opened up drive-up immunizations to make them more convenient. They’re also encouraging families to vaccinate their children.

Health Department officials say this year it’s very important for people to get their influenza vaccine, as the flu looks similar to COVID-19 but can also take up medical resources through the winter.

Of the 33,469 cases of COVID-19 confirmed since the pandemic began, about 88 percent of people have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

Among those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living at the time; nearly all those who’ve died had prior health problems.

Malcolm again implored Minnesotans to continue socials distancing and wear masks in public spaces to help minimize the spread of the disease. While deaths remain concentrated among higher age groups, three people in their 30s have died.

Malcolm also noted that 40 is now the median age of Minnesotans confirmed with the disease.

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