ROCHESTER, Minn. — "We have a special message to college students heading to campus this fall," said Minnesota Department of Health director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann on Friday, Aug. 14. "Lay low before you go."

Health officials expressed their concern during a Friday media call that end-of-summer gatherings, crowded events in bars and group road trips could make the state's campuses the hub for incoming infections.

They used the news conference to ask that students preparing to return to campus begin to stay home and interact only with the people they live with for 14 days prior to returning.

"No matter what you've been doing up to this point," Ehresmann said, "now is a very important time to start reducing any activities that carry a heightened risk of transmission. That means skipping the massive house party, avoiding the crowded bars, and limiting your interactions."

The first outbreaks in Minnesota identified this summer were affiliated with bars serving colleges and universities, Ehresmann said, citing outbreaks in Mankato, Minneapolis, Duluth, Bemidji and St. Cloud. But she added that the warning applies to students across the state.

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"The actions they take now to not follow mask guidance or social distance guidance could have an impact on whether or not their college or university is able to continue with an in-person learning mode," Ehresmann said. "The bottom line is, students will decide how successful this is, and whether or not their college will have to close down and send everybody home again."

Ehresmann says the goal of the "lay low" advisory was to minimize what's being brought to campus, and that, "once students are on campus, we've given lots of guidance for institutes of higher education on how to minimize transmission when students arrive."

Health officials also used the call to issue warnings about hand sanitizers containing methanol or 1-propanol.

"Neither of these is an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizer products marketed in the United States," said state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield. "These can be toxic and life-threatening when ingested."

Lynfield said the Minnesota Poison Control center has received 50 calls about products containing methanol, with eight people seeking care. She said 14 of the 50 calls were about kids under 19, and that eight were for kids under 6, with most involving ingestion. Though health officials are not aware of any deaths in Minnesota from sanitizer poisoning, the CDC has just released a report listing four deaths in Arizona and New Mexico from persons swallowing hand sanitizers containing methanol.

Lynfield said the products can cause respiratory, vision, skin and central nervous system symptoms, and that anyone who has been exposed to the products and is experiencing symptoms should see immediate care.

Additionally, consumers who have used these products should stop using them immediately and dispose of them in hazardous waste containers, not pour them down the drain or flush them down the toilet. Health officials directed consumers to a website at www.fda.gov/unsafehandsanitizers for a list of hand sanitizer products to avoid.

Also on Friday, the ad-hoc, international collaboration administered by Mayo Clinic and created at the start of the pandemic to offer convalescent plasma in the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 announced it has released a preprint showing promising findings. The work identified two signals that will be used to guide clinical trials of the treatment: controlled studies capable of determining effectiveness with scientific certainty.

The report reflects the treatment of 35,000 patients at dozens of medical centers large and small. It marks the first findings addressing the effectiveness of the Expanded Access Program created to provide the century-old treatment now being repurposed for the deadly pandemic.

More than half the patients treated in the EAP were in the ICU and a third were on a respirator.

It provides preliminary evidence that earlier treatment and with higher doses of antibodies were two variables associated with reduced mortality over a seven day period.

Among those who received plasma within three days, 8.7% died, compared to 11.9% of those who received it after four days. That was a small effect that was nonetheless statistically significant, a benchmark for clinical meaningful findings.

There was no control group, however, so the data cannot be used to assign causal findings.

It joins preliminary results of a small controlled study just published finding mortality benefit in patients given plasma combined with another blood product.

Early response to the EAP preprint has been cautious, with scientists lamenting the challenge of conducting trials that draw definitive findings while medical centers attempt to do whatever they can to save lives in a deadly pandemic.

The state of Minnesota Friday, Aug. 14, reported 738 cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths from the illness.

Single deaths were recorded in Blue Earth, Cass and Watonwan counties. Two deaths were reported in Nobles County and three deaths were reported in Hennepin County. Six of the eight deaths were among members of long-term care.

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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.