ROCHESTER, Minn. -- With the number of positive COVID-19 cases, and deaths, declining in recent days in Minnesota, more good news was announced Tuesday, June 16, in the United Kingdom.
A large, controlled trial within the United Kingdom has determined that a cheap, common steroid known as dexamethasone cut deaths among ventilated patients with COVID-19 by one-third.
The Oxford University RECOVERY trial (Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy) is an evaluation of six major treatments under consideration for treatment of the illness, including convalescent plasma, AIDS drugs, antibiotics and hydroxychloroquine (an arm of the 11,500-person trial that has since been stopped for lack of effectiveness).
For every 8 persons on ventilation given the drug, it would save one life. The 2104-person dexamethasone arm of the trial also found that six milligrams a day of the steroid for 10 days reduced deaths among those taking oxygen by one-fifth, or one life for every 25 persons given the drug. There was no benefit for those who had no oxygen assistance.
The results are striking because they are the first to show an improvement in so-called "hard outcomes," with the illness, such as mortality. No drug has yet been shown to reduce deaths from COVID-19, but the Gilead drug Remdesivir made headlines last month for having reduced hospitalized duration of illness by four days.
The dexamethasone data have not yet been published, however, and trial results can quickly lose their sheen when researchers open their books to outside review. The results, moreover do not in any way warrant use of the steroid as a prevention for COVID-19. Long term use of steroids carries well-noted health risks.
But based on what has been reported Tuesday, the United Kingdom has approved the steroid for treatment of COVID-19, and the findings will likely change treatment guidelines.
By the numbers
Minnesota health officials reported nine deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of deaths from the virus in the state to 1,313.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported one death each in Clay, Crow Wing and Sherburne counties, two in Ramsey County and four in Hennepin County. Seven of the nine deaths were among residents of long-term care.
Continuing a downward trend in cases and deaths in recent days, health officials reported 197 new cases of COVID-19. The new cases were spread out among 41 counties, with most counties reporting numbers in the single digits.
You have to go back to mid-April to find daily new case totals below 200, and the low case count on Tuesday is all the more striking given that the state is now conducting three times as many daily tests as it did two months ago. More tests usually means more cases but an opposite trend is emerging.
The state conducted 6,494 tests Monday. The state has now tested almost 430,000 Minnesotans for COVID-19.
One of the sought-after metrics to determine containment of the virus is a low case positivity rate, or a low percentage of tests taken that return positive.
Monday, state commissioner of health Jan Malcolm said in a seven-day rolling average the state had a 3.8% case positivity rate. That's far lower than the 12% case positivity rate of a month ago. Malcolm added that of the 3,200 tests conducted at stand-up testing centers in the Twin Cities last week, the initiative had a 1.8% case positivity rate.
Tuesday marked the start of another two-day community testing clinic at four sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The clinics are free and designed to offer testing to asymptomatic persons who took part in large gatherings over the past three weeks. Health officials strongly recommend participants obtain an appointment online at the health department webpage.
The number of patients in ICU settings for COVID-19 continues to drop. As of Tuesday, the state reported 185 patients in ICU settings with COVID-19 and another 172 patients hospitalized in non-ICU settings with the illness.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.