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Minnesota COVID-19 deaths jump by 29, worst toll since June

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota health officials reported 29 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the state’s highest one-day death toll since early June, as the coronavirus spreads at high levels across the state.

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported 1,254 new coronavirus cases, a number boosted by the department’s decision to start reporting probable cases, as determined by newer technology antigen tests, in addition to confirmed cases identified by the more common and more accurate PCR tests, also known as molecular tests.

The grand case total reported Wednesday included 40 probable cases on top of 1,214 new confirmed cases, which raised Minnesota’s total case count since the pandemic began to 115,943, including 180 total probable cases to date. The state’s death toll rose to 2,180, including six deaths from probable cases.

The department said in its announcement that antigen tests are less accurate PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard. But antigen tests have the advantages of producing faster results and being usable by providers that don’t have full laboratories. Both technologies look at whether someone is actively infected with the virus.

The federal government has provided large supplies of antigen tests to long-term care facilities so they can conduct the frequent testing that authorities now require, but the department said it’s not clear whether those devices are “sufficiently accurate” in people without symptoms.

“Federal officials have embraced antigen tests and are aggressively encouraging states and institutions across the country to use them,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “We believe it’s a good idea to add this equipment to our toolkit as long as we keep the information in proper context.”

Kris Ehresmann, the department’s infectious disease director, said in the announcement that testing, including newer rapid methods, isn’t a substitute for other preventive measures, given that tests can be wrong and that people can get sick after they’re tested.

“People still need to continue to socially distance, wear masks, avoid crowds, wash their hands and stay home if sick,” she said

The department has added breakdowns between confirmed and probable cases to its daily situation update web page going back to Sept. 1 for total tests, total cases, total cases by county and test positivity.