COVID-19 Latest

A sign directs people toward COVID-19 testing in Minneapolis. (Evan Frost/MPR News)

Minnesota’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to head the wrong way, with counts of people currently hospitalized and needing intensive care rising to levels not seen in six weeks.

The Health Department Tuesday reported 328 Minnesota’s still hospitalized with 159 of those needing an ICU bed.

Officials have been bracing Minnesotans to expect hospitalizations and ICU cases to grow in response to the case surge the past few weeks. While current hospitalizations remain far lower than their late-May peak, they continue to climb even as the growth in new cases plateaus.

The state reported 606 new confirmed cases of the disease and four more deaths.

Of the 57,162 confirmed cases of the disease since the pandemic began, about 88 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated

Among the 1,620 Minnesotans who’ve died, about 76 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 1,002, including eight deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 859 confirmed and five deaths, while Steele County has 333 confirmed and one death. Le Sueur County has 202 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 320 confirmed and 13 deaths; Waseca County 130 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 177 confirmed and eight deaths; Brown County 85 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 80 confirmed and two deaths.

Worries of Sturgis spread

The newest numbers come a day after state health officials warned the upcoming Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota could end be a potential petri dish for spreading the virus here and across the nation.

The nine-day event is expected to attract more than 250,000 riders and their friends from around the country to the Black Hills staring Friday, which is causing Minnesota health leaders to worry about the disease making its way back here.

“We are concerned with any large gathering, sustained contact of that nature,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday, calling the rally “sort of a recipe for something to happen.”

Asked if Minnesota might call for Sturgis riders coming back to the state to voluntarily quarantine, Malcolm said that while cases are expected to bubble up here in late August and early September, officials here haven’t yet discussed a quarantine request.

Riders who do go to Sturgis should limit their social activity when they return and “be very cautious” if their jobs or social interactions but them in contact with vulnerable people, added Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.

The length of the rally from Friday through Aug. 16, will mean prolonged exposure for many, and the long-distance travel by many riders means they may carry the virus home and touch off other outbreaks, Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told MPR News Monday.

Sturgis will also feature some high-risk factors, including a surge of possibly hundreds of thousands of people — many of them older — packing into a relatively small town, he added.

“Come mid-August to late August, early September,” Osterholm said, “Sturgis will have one hell of an imprint on this country.”

Malcolm on Tuesday implored Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease, noting that the state’s received some 370 complaints in the past few weeks tied to bars and restaurants over possible violations of the state’s mask-wearing and social distancing requirements, including 24 complaints on Friday.

Stopping the spread is “largely going to be determined by the decisions each of us Minnesotans make,” she said.

Cases growing across age brackets, up north

Worries remain about the growth of coronavirus cases among younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable people.

“Consider all the roles you play” in all daily interactions, Ehresmann cautioned last week. People who might not worry about themselves should worry about infecting vulnerable family members and coworkers, she added.

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic — more than 13,000. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.

Regionally, newly reported cases have been driven recently by the Twin Cities and its suburbs, but it’s present in all parts of the state, including the north, which had largely avoided the outbreak until recently.

Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past two weeks, increasing to 193 as of Monday.

Meatpacking operations had been hot spots for big outbreaks in southwest, west-central and central Minnesota earlier in the pandemic, but new cases have slowed considerably in recent weeks.

The case increases the past few week in Minnesota have caught the attention of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in a Monday interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association named Minnesota among a handful of states that should reconsider reimposing some restrictions given the trends.

While Minnesota’s daily new case increases in recent weeks have been high, they appear to have stabilized and that “gives us the sense we have a little bit more time to watch our trends,” Malcolm said.

State officials did caution again about waves of scams related to COVID-19 rolling through Minnesota, including a new twist — texts from people posing as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts trying to convince others to not wear masks and alleging a dry cough is a sign of “micro mold in your mask,” Ehresmann said.

She also warned again of scammers calling people pretending they are health investigators tracking a COVID-19 outbreak but then asking for Social Security or credit card numbers. A legitimate investigator will never ask for such information, she said.

Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America to reopen Monday

The Mall of America said the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park inside the mall will reopen next week after being closed nearly five months due to COVID-19.

Officials of the Bloomington, Minn., mall said the 7-acre theme park will reopen Monday with significant changes aimed at maintaining a safe, healthy and comfortable environment.

To meet state guidelines, Nickelodeon Universe will operate with a reduced capacity of 250 visitors at any time. Guests will be allowed through a single entry point. Only guests who have bought a ticket will have access to walk through the park. Tickets will be limited to two hours.

Guests 3 years and older will be required to wear face masks at all times, including for the duration of each attraction. Children 2 and under and people with special medical conditions are exempt. Guests may remove their face masks while eating or drinking.

Guests also must sanitize their hands before entering each attraction. Sanitizing stations have been added to the entrance and exit of each attraction.

— The Associated Press

Osterholm: Expect COVID-19 in junior, senior highs

Ahead of plans to bring at least some Minnesota students back into classrooms in a few weeks, disease experts say there will be COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.

Junior high and high school students will facilitate that spread, Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told MPR News Monday.

“We’re going to see it in high schools. This is why there’s a bifurcation in the recommendations about what to do to handle high school secondary students, versus younger students,” he said.

Off-campus gatherings continue to be a problem among college students, and older teens will have some of the same challenges, he added.

Osterholm saw some hopeful signs in the outbreak. Day care centers, he noted, have been able to keep operating with minimal disruption, and research is showing kids under 10 years old aren’t major factors in coronavirus transmission.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Groups urge Congress to include funding for telemental health in next COVID-19 aid

Leaders in the field of mental health and addiction services in Minnesota are calling on Congress to award $100 million to help meet the nation's growing need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill would provide grants to Native American tribes, qualified nonprofits and other providers who have been largely left out of past federal coronavirus response aid.

The money would help with telephone helplines and websites and telehealth services, which Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation president and CEO Mark Mishek says are working.

"The early data is continuous sobriety is equal to if not a little better than what we saw for in-person out-patient services, so, so far so good,” Mishek said. “Now, some people aren't going to thrive well in virtual services but it appears it is a very effective mode of treatment."

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and a Republican Senator from Indiana introduced the legislation in May, with hopes it will be part of whatever Congress passes to follow the expired CARES Act.

— Nina Moini | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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