Tuesday’s COVID-19 data shows Minnesota holding steady on a hopeful path.
New caseloads and hospitalizations continue to retreat from their recent highs, and there’s still no sign of the anticipated surge from Thanksgiving holiday celebrations.
The Health Department recorded 21 more deaths, a relatively low toll so far in an otherwise dreadful December, with 890 deaths reported in the first 15 days of the month.
New hospital admissions are pulling back from their late November, early December highs, although nearly 1,300 people remain in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Sunday with 319 needing intensive care.
The newest numbers come as Gov. Tim Walz weighs whether to extend his current ban on in-person bar and restaurant service beyond Friday. Officials say they’re trying to balance the recent improvement in conditions with the reality that the pandemic isn’t over.
Tuesday’s count of 2,340 newly confirmed or probable cases put Minnesota’s total at 384,164 to date. In about 92 percent of those cases, people have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The deaths reported Tuesday raised Minnesota’s count to 4,483. Among those who’ve died, about two-thirds had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
More than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the past six weeks. That’s nearly half of all the deaths in the pandemic.
Caseloads spread across age groups
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 74,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 40,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with about 30,000 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Although less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations.
It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
New cases ebb in rural Minnesota
Central and western Minnesota drove much of the increase in new cases over the past five weeks, while Hennepin and Ramsey counties showed some of the slowest case growth in the state.
After a spike in confirmed cases through much of November and early December, all regions of the state have seen new case numbers plateau or fall.
Hot spots continues to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.
New caseloads still heaviest among people of color
In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths. That’s been especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent for much of the pandemic.
Even as new case counts ease from their peak a few weeks ago, the data shows people of color continue to be hit hardest.
Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, officials say, especially among unauthorized immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.
Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
Officials continue to plead with Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if they don’t feel well and otherwise stay vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.
No sign yet of Thanksgiving celebrations surge
Officials have been anticipating another wave of climbing caseloads and hospitalizations soon originating from Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. But it hasn’t happened yet.
State public health leaders last week said they were somewhat hopeful that many families heeded the public pleas to not gather in big groups for Thanksgiving, and so the worst-case scenarios of a post-holiday surge might not materialize.
But they also cautioned that it was too soon to say a Thanksgiving celebration surge would not happen.
Walz decision nears
Tuesday’s numbers will influence a key decision this week for Gov. Tim Walz. His current order banning in-person bar and restaurant service runs until Friday. The governor last week said he wanted to see several more days of data before making a call on whether to extend that ban.
That decision is expected Wednesday. State officials haven’t signaled what Walz will do, but said they’re trying to balance the recent improvement in conditions with the reality that the pandemic continues at a worrisome pace.
The decreasing demand for beds for COVID-19 patients was an encouraging sign and an “extremely important welcome bit of respite” for hospitals and care workers, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday.
At the same time, she warned conditions were still volatile. “Clearly, we are still in a very precarious state. We’re certainly not out of the woods.”
While down from its peak, the rate of new cases is still extremely high, she added. “We just need to keep watching the data very closely to make sure that the decrease in cases is not simply an artifact of less testing.”
Malcolm and other state health leaders continue to urge Minnesotans to do all they can — wearing masks in public gathering spaces, socially distancing and staying home if you don’t feel well — to guard against the spread of the disease.
They emphasized that the pandemic is not over yet.
State suspends liquor license for bar that continued in-person service
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety on Sunday suspended the liquor license of an East Grand Forks, Minn., bar that had been operating in violation of state COVID-19 restrictions.
The Boardwalk Bar and Grill reopened to in-person service last week. Owner Jane Moss said her business would go under if she could not serve patrons in person.
The 60-day liquor license suspension announced Sunday is set to expire in February; another violation could result in a five-year license revocation.
The action follows a temporary restraining order issued Friday by a Polk County District Court judge, ordering the bar to close to in-person service.
Minnesota’s monthlong shutdown of in-person bar and restaurant service, along with youth sports and other activities, is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday. Gov. Tim Walz has not yet said whether he'll extend the restrictions.
Representatives of a group called the Reopen Minnesota Coalition told KARE-TV on Friday that dozens of businesses plan to defy the governor's order in the coming week.
— MPR News Staff