COVID-19 Latest Aug. 9

(Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News)

A big drop in Minnesota’s daily COVID-19 case count is likely the result of reporting delays to the Health Department over Labor Day. Because of that, it’s difficult to read anything into the newest numbers.

The number of new cases reported Tuesday (387) is half the average number of cases reported last week. Similarly low are the 7,120 new tests reported — less than half of recent trends.

Two closely watched metrics — the number of people currently in the hospital due to COVID-19 and the subset needing intensive care — also fell significantly from Monday’s Labor Day report: 257 are hospitalized with 135 in ICUs. But it’s also not clear if that’s part of an ongoing dip over the past week or a statistical anomaly.

The Health Department says some hospitals have recently stopped reporting new data on COVID-19 hospitalizations over weekends.

Of the 81,608 confirmed cases of the disease in the pandemic to date, about 89 percent of those identified have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Two more deaths reported Tuesday bring Minnesota’s toll to 1,862. Among those who’ve died, about 73 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Minnesota currently has more than 6,000 active, confirmed cases, a record in the outbreak, although the number — confirmed and unconfirmed — was likely higher in May when testing was much lower.

In south central Minnesota, Blue Earth County has the most confirmed cases, now at 1,446, including five deaths. Rice County is next with 1,233 confirmed and eight deaths, while Steele County has 473 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 410 confirmed and two deaths; Nicollet County 459 confirmed and 15 deaths; Waseca County 335 confirmed and four deaths; Goodhue County 275 confirmed and nine deaths; Brown County 140 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 156 confirmed and three deaths.

20-somethings drive new cases

With newly confirmed cases rising steeply the past few weeks and college students and kids returning to school, state health officials are particularly concerned about young adults.

People in their 20s make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 19,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 11,000 among people ages 20-24.

They are driving the current outbreaks, although the number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown recently, topping 7,000 total cases for children 15 to 19 years old since the pandemic began.

While less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations and that such outbreaks could cripple attempts to reopen campuses completely to in-person teaching.

Officials said last week that they believe too many Minnesotans have numbed to the need to stay vigilant in the pandemic, opening the door to more spread that can’t easily be traced. They worried that informal Labor Day holiday gatherings of family and friends could accelerate the trend.

About one-third of new cases in Minnesota are now coming from community spread of unknown origin — higher than just before the Fourth of July, the last major holiday that brought Minnesotans together.

Cases surge ‘all over the state’

Health authorities noted a spike in Winona County they attribute to college-age people returning to schools there. Winona State University and St. Mary's University are based in Winona. The city also has a Minnesota State College Southeast campus.

Cases are rising most quickly now in west-central Minnesota, including Stevens County, which has seen its cases double in the last nine days from 38 to 78.

While southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs continue to drive new case confirmations, central and northern Minnesota are also on the rise.

State health authorities have said backyard parties, get-togethers to start the new school year and other casual meetups are fueling the current case counts.

Minnesotans’ behavior in stores, restaurants and other public places isn’t so much the problem now, but “informal gatherings have really proven to be a weak spot in our response to the pandemic,” Malcolm said last week. “The virus is all over the state. The outbreaks are happening all over the state … and we just want people to be vigilant.”

Demand for food banks expected to soar with onset of winter

Food shelves are expecting to see unprecedented demand this winter, due to the economic impact of COVID-19.

Allison O'Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, said the current demand for food aid is unlike anything the country has seen since the Great Depression and while the region is in the middle of an unprecendented surge in hunger amid the pandemic, it has yet to reach its peak.

"That means moms and dads are skipping meals so their kids can have more. That means families are watering down milk. That means people are turning ketchup packets into meals,” O’Toole said.

O'Toole added that her organization is delivering 300,000 pounds of food daily to food shelves in Minnesota and western Wisconsin — that's double the amount it was delivering at this time last year. O'Toole said she expects the demand to continue to increase with the onset of winter.

Despite reports of unprecedented need for food aid in Minnesota, some rural food shelves say they are seeing a decline in clientele in their area.

Alana Ziehl, executive director of the Kandiyohi County Food Shelf, attributes the decline in part to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. She said the federal aid program has increased its allotments to qualifying households during the pandemic. SNAP benefits are being extended on a month-by-month basis.

“So they aren't needing us as much right now. But when and if that does go away, that's when we're going to be seeing the huge increase of need," she said.

Ziehl added that rural food shelves need cash assistance in order to purchase supplies from food banks so they can meet the demand.

“Even pre-COVID, there's a lot of people that are living paycheck to paycheck, you know, one in a house, a single mom with three kids not getting child support, anything like that,” Ziehl said. “They're coming to us for help; any little bit of help they can get to help them pay a fuel bill or gas in their car to get to their their job, that kind of thing."

One in 8 Minnesotans is expected to face hunger in the coming months with more than a third of them being children, according to a study commissioned by Second Harvest Heartland.

— Marianne Combs | MPR News

Walz to request extension of emergency powers

The emergency footing Minnesota has been on since March is likely to be extended at least one more month.

Gov. Tim Walz first declared a peacetime emergency in March when the coronavirus was detected in Minnesota. He’s renewed it five times since. Walz has until Friday to reup the order, which he has given every indication he will do.

The duration of the emergency is unprecedented in modern times. It's drawn scorn from Republicans who argue it has cut the Legislature out of decision-making. They say the COVID-19 situation has stabilized enough for the executive powers to lapse.

Walz said the pandemic is still flaring and his administration needs flexibility to procure supplies, direct agency resources and expedite aid.

The law compels the governor to call the Legislature into special session upon each extension. Both the House and Senate would have to vote in favor of any move to rescind the powers, an unlikely outcome given divided party control.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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