ROCHESTER, Minn.-- While acknowledging "the pain, anguish, sadness and anger," driving protests throughout the Twin Cities, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm on Thursday, May 28, encouraged protesters who gather in public "to please just be mindful of the risk, and that risk can be reduced" by social distancing and wearing masks.

"We fully recognize," Malcolm added, "how difficult that would be in a situation like this."

The state's top health official later affirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state are likely to rise from demonstrations this week in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death while being arrested by Minneapolis police.

"I don't have any quantification of it," Malcolm said. "But we would expect that gatherings of the size that are expected, under the conditions that we're experiencing, would very predictably accelerate the spread."

Minority and low-income communities are already harder hit by the virus, a phenomenon tied to higher rates of public contact in the workplace as well as higher rates of underlying health conditions widely associated with systematic health inequities and structural racism.

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In other news, Malcolm pushed back Thursday in the face of a widely held impression that Minnesota is an outlier compared to other states in respects to the state's high percentage of people who die from the illness in long-term care. Roughly 80% of all deaths from the illness in Minnesota have occurred among residents of long-term care, and the statistic is considered one of the highest such percentages in the country.

Malcolm countered that Minnesota defines long-term care more broadly than do other states, adding that when you isolate deaths among patients in skilled nursing facilities alone, the state's percentage drops to 54%. The health commissioner said that "in a number of states, if someone from long-term care dies in a hospital, that is not counted as a long-term care death. We do count it as a long-term care death if they were a resident of a facility, even if they died in a hospital."

Malcolm said over half of congregate care centers in the state with cases of COVID-19 have fewer than two cases, that most facilities have no cases and that "among those facilities with a larger number of cases, a third of them have had no new cases in a week."

A day after the death toll from COVID-19 passed 100,000 in the U.S., the number of Minnesotans who have died jumped by 35 on Thursday, according to health officials, the highest one-day jump yet. Twenty-seven of the deaths were among residents of long-term care.

With 967 residents now having died from the illness, the state seems poised to pass 1,000 fatalities by the end of the week.

One death was recorded in St. Louis, Itasca and Benton counties, four deaths were recorded in Anoka County, five deaths were recorded in Dakota County, seven in Ramsey County and 16 deaths were listed in Hennepin County. Among the deaths recorded in Ramsey County, one individual was in their early 30s and one was in their early 40s, both without known underlying health conditions, according to health officials.

The state on Thursday recorded 493 cases on 8,776 tests, the highest one-day test volume. The state's daily new case count dropped Thursday, and the day's high test count with a lower case count made for a 5.6% case rate, the lowest in days. There are now 22, 947 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, though that number is believed to be an undercount.

The state hospital system is now treating over 600 people for COVID-19, and Malcolm has stated that metro hospitals have begun utilizing their surge capacity, converting ordinary hospital beds into ICU beds. There are 242 Minnesotans in the ICU with COVID-19, a drop of 18 from Wednesday. Another 364 Minnesotans are hospitalized with the illness in non-ICU settings.

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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.