COVID-19 Latest June 25

Two signs posted on the door of HealthPartners's Stillwater Medical Group clinic in March. Health officials say they’re increasingly concerned that people with serious health problems who need emergency room care are not seeking that care and that parents are not keeping up with regular vaccinations for their children because of COVID-19 fears. (Mark Zdechlik/MPR News file)

Minnesota’s COVID-19 toll rose again Friday as the Health Department reported 1,411 people have died from the disease, up 5 from Thursday. Trends, though, continue to show the death rate slowing significantly.

Friday marked the first time since mid-April that the state reported six consecutive days of deaths in the single digits.

Another hopeful trend: The counts of people currently hospitalized (335) and needing intensive care (157) — two closely watched metrics as officials try to manage the spread of the disease — continue to flatten, with an overall downward trend the past few weeks.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 780, including four deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 317 confirmed and two deaths, while Steele County has 209 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 75 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 120 confirmed and 12 deaths; Waseca County 51 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 111 confirmed and eight deaths; Brown County 23 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 37 confirmed and two deaths.

Public Health officials in Rice County noted that at least part of the higher number of cases in that county can be attributed to a higher rate of testing. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, officials said.

In Nicollet County, the death toll is higher due to impact on the elderly community. At least one assisted living facility in the county reported a couple dozen cases, though it did not report the number of deaths from its facility. All deaths in the county have been residents in their 80s or 90s.

The latest counts come as officials worry that younger adults in Minnesota and across the country aren’t following protocols to prevent the virus’ spread as spikes continue to be linked to parties and people in their 20s.

Friday’s Health Department data showed that Minnesotans in their 20s make up the largest age group of confirmed cases in Minnesota — 7,045 people, with two deaths.

Bar-driven cluster surfaces in Blue Earth County

A bar-related spike in coronavirus cases has surfaced in south-central Minnesota. Through contact tracing, some 100 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Minnesotans in their 20s who said they went to bars in the south-central part of the state on June 12 and 13 — the first weekend bars and restaurants were allowed to serve indoors.

The state Health Department didn’t say exactly where, or which bars, drove the cluster. On Thursday morning, however, officials in Blue Earth County, which includes Mankato, acknowledged a surge of 91 cases since June 20 with nearly all those sickened in the 19- to 25-year-old age range.

While those young people may be less likely to suffer complications from COVID-19, officials say the concern is that they may be inadvertently spreading the disease to grandparents or other potentially vulnerable populations.

State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said some of the people who tested positive work in child care and health care, pointing out that they have a high likelihood of spreading the disease in their workplace.

She said that this situation underscores the risk the state took when deciding to allow bars and restaurants to reopen.

“We want to make sure that even as we’re happily taking advantage of the opening of bars and restaurants that people, even if you’re young and you feel your personal risk of COVID is low, you’re continuing to social distance and wear masks,” Ehresmann said.

Mankato Chamber of Commerce President Jessica Beyer said that like a lot of business associations, they have been offering local businesses advice and education on how to keep their employees and customers protected, such as encouraging mask-wearing and keeping tables 6 feet apart.

Meanwhile, state officials said Wednesday that restaurants and bars don’t have to report positive COVID-19 cases to the state or the public if an employee or customer tests positive for the disease.

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 847 confirmed cases as of Thursday.

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

Health officials held a COVID-19 testing push in Austin, Minn., over the weekend.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,637 confirmed cases Thursday. About 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although there have only been a few additional cases recorded the past few days.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May.

An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Thursday, confirmed cases were at 2,141 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.

As of Thursday, the Health Department reported 564 people have now tested positive in the county.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Cottonwood County (127 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County (284 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall.

Inmate dies at Faribault prison after testing positive for COVID-19

The Minnesota Department of Corrections on Thursday reported a 43-year-old inmate at the Faribault prison has died nearly three weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement, the department says Adrian Raymaar Keys died at a hospital Tuesday evening. Keys and an unspecified number of other men tested positive for COVID-19 on June 4.

The agency says Keys' health deteriorated over the weekend and he was hospitalized on Monday. If the Hennepin County Medical Examiner determines that his death was related to COVID-19 complications, it would be the first COVID-19-related death of a Minnesota inmate.

More than 200 Faribault inmates — or about 12 percent of the prison's population — have tested positive for the coronavirus in June. That's far more than in any other Minnesota prison.

The Corrections Department says four Faribault staff members also tested positive, but have since returned to work.

— Matt Sepic | MPR News

Twins report ‘a few’ recent positive cases

The Minnesota Twins have become the latest Major League Baseball team to report cases of coronavirus within its organization.

President of baseball operations Derek Falvey said in a conference call Thursday that “a few" players had tested positive and that each player was “doing well” in self-isolation at home. None of the positive tests came from players currently in Minnesota or in Fort Myers, Fla., where the team’s spring training headquarters are.

While he didn't identify them or specify the number, Falvey said that all were members of the 60-man group that is scheduled to begin workouts next week ahead of a planned regular season. Before they can join the team in Minneapolis, each player must return two negative coronavirus tests. Major league camps are set to reopen next week, mostly at home stadiums.

Prior to the recent positive tests, Falvey said, the Twins had no known cases among players or staff.

— MPR News staff and The Associated Press

Mayo Clinic to end pay cuts, recall workers

Mayo Clinic says it is reversing pay cuts and ending worker furloughs initially put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The clinic says outpatient visits, medical procedures and surgeries are picking up, so it will be restoring pay levels for thousands of employees as of Wednesday and bringing back idled workers by the end of August, ahead of their scheduled return.

The pay cuts were announced in April as Mayo was projecting a $900 million loss through the end of 2020 after Gov. Tim Walz announced a ban on nonessential medical procedures to preserve masks and other medical supplies for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases.

Physicians and senior administrators were given a 10 percent salary cut, with a 7 percent cut for other salaried employees. Senior executives took a 20 percent pay cut, and that reduction is not being rolled back.

Mayo says patient volumes had returned to as much as 90 percent of normal by mid-June.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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