ST. PAUL — In their continuing attempt to implement an immediate, statewide behavioral intervention on a scale never before attempted, health officials on Wednesday, March 18 reiterated the message that testing for COVID-19 is far less important than staying home when you are sick.

Officially, this recommendation is for those with a fever and respiratory symptoms to self-isolate for seven days from the start of symptoms, or three days after the cessation of a fever without the assistance of medication, whichever is longest.

More striking, however, is the state's additional directive, one that has largely escaped notice. Health officials ask that all household members and intimate partners of those who develop symptoms also stay home, and for 14 days from the start of a sick family member going into isolation.

In essence, these recommendations say that the sick person could very well likely leave the home before all others under the same roof.

"The reason for that is that the family's quarantine period is based on the incubation period for COVID-19, which is 14 days," said Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann during a daily afternoon news conference on Wednesday, March 18. "Family members have a longer timeframe because that quarantine is based on the 14-day incubation period for COVID-19."

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State health officials reiterated they will reserve tests for those with symptoms who work in healthcare, are hospitalized, or who live in congregated living only, and encourage private testing entities to serve all others. It was a second day of reiterating a new and undoubtedly confusing message for a public that has been long been encouraged to quickly identify disease through screening and testing.

"Although this may be discouraging or disappointing for individuals who were hoping to be tested by our lab to understand if they have COVID-19," Ehresmann said, "the fact of the matter is, if you are able to manage your symptoms in an outpatient setting, having a laboratory confirmation does not change our recommendations. Nor does it change any type of recommendations you would receive from your provider. There is no treatment, so the testing is not necessary. People need to know the most important thing they can do at this time is to stay home when they are sick."

Because testing is being discouraged, Ehresmann said employers should not require a COVID-19 diagnosis to award sick leave to their employees.

Health officials also updated reporters on the locations and other characteristics about newly discovered cases in the state, a number they believe is widely below the actual spread of the illness in the state. The state reported 17 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, for a total of 77 persons infected thus far. The state has now conducted 2,762 tests, a number that does not include the hundreds of tests being conducted daily by Mayo Clinic and private labs.

Seven cases have been hospitalized thus far, with three having been released and four remaining, one in critical condition. Cases were reported for the first time in Martin, Nicollet and Scott counties. Ehresmann said the median age for all cases is 50 in the state, with 46 males and 31 females. Three of the 17 cases reported Wednesday were contracted through community transmission. The MDH did not have those counties at press time.

Officials added that 13 cases have been identified in people who were healthcare workers, but said that all were cases exposed to the illness through travel, not work, and none were clustered in any given facility. "I think there are rumors of multiple cases in a single place," Ehresmann said. "It's not true, not all of these are from one facility, nor are there large clusters at this point. We have not had to make recommendations to significantly remove many health care workers from the job."

Globally, there have been 203,000 cases of coronavirus diagnosed thus far, with 8,200 deaths. Within the US there have been 6,496 cases diagnosed during the outbreak, with 114 deaths.

Coronavirus cases in Minnesota by county

Anoka: 3

Benton: 1

Blue Earth: 2

Carver: 2

Dakota: 8

Hennepin: 28

Martin: 2

Nicollet: 2

Olmsted: 6

Ramsey: 12

Renville: 1

Scott: 1

Stearns: 3

Waseca: 1

Washington: 3

Wright: 2

MDH COVID-19 hotline: (651) 201-3920. 2,300 calls yesterday

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. 850,000 visits yesterday

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