COVID-19 Latest Aug. 9

(Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News)

Minnesota reported nearly 1,600 new COVID-19 cases Monday, continuing an October where average new counts of more than 1,000 a day. The trend line of new daily cases appears to have flattened, although at a high level.

The average number of daily new hospitalizations, however, is not flattening and continues to climb. Average daily hospital admissions are now well above their prior late-May peak.

In south central Minnesota, Blue Earth County has the most confirmed cases, now at 2,045, including seven deaths. Rice County is next with 1,648 confirmed and 10 deaths, while Steele County has 761 confirmed and three deaths. Le Sueur County has 631 confirmed and five deaths; Nicollet County 739 confirmed and 17 deaths; Waseca County 929 confirmed and nine deaths; Goodhue County 596 confirmed and 11 deaths; Brown County 324 confirmed and three deaths; and Sibley County 254 confirmed and three deaths.

The newest numbers come following a weekend when the Health Department reported nearly 4,000 more confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 more deaths.

State officials expected that late summer and early fall gatherings, sporting events and informal meetups among Minnesotans would deliver a surge of cases in October. They also anticipated the wave would put more people in the hospital — and lead to more deaths. That appears to be happening.

Active confirmed cases are at pandemic highs.

“There is more disease out there, and not just because we’re doing more testing,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday.

Of the 135,372 cases of the disease confirmed in the pandemic to date, about 89 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

One bit of hopeful news: the daily death toll fell to four on Monday after the state averaged 16 deaths a day over the past week tied to COVID-19, a level that hadn’t been seen since June.

The deaths reported Monday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,353. Among those who’ve died, about 70 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

Caseloads rising across age groups

New cases are up dramatically over the past month in all age groups. That includes a concerning rise in the number of new cases among Minnesotans ages 60 and older.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — nearly 30,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 16,800 among people ages 20-24.

The numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about young adults as spreaders of the virus.

While 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 and that spread could hamper attempts to reopen schools and campuses completely to in-person teaching.

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 12,000 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

Cases surging along Minnesota’s western border

Regionally, central, northern and southern Minnesota have driven much of the recent increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.

Newly reported cases are highest in western Minnesota. The data don’t explain why. However, cases are surging currently in the Dakotas. North Dakota has the country’s worst per-capita spread rate.

Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.

Northern Minnesota, once the region least affected by the disease, has also seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks. Northwestern Minnesota continues to see cases rise swiftly relative to it population.

The most recent hot spots are all counties in northwestern Minnesota.

“We are seeing more deaths in greater Minnesota because we are seeing more cases there,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday. “We will see more and more deaths from greater Minnesota because of the high caseload.”

The state’s positive test rate remains significantly above the 5 percent threshold that officials find concerning.

Ehresmann and Malcolm tied the recent steep rise in cases and deaths to “COVID fatigue” but also described people who are ill but refuse to get tested because they don't want to admit they have it and don't quarantine as a contributing factor in spreading the disease.

Latino, Indigenous cases jump

In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths.

Minnesotans of Hispanic descent are testing positive for COVID-19 at about five times the rate of white Minnesotans. They, along with Black Minnesotans, are also being hospitalized and moved to intensive care units at higher rates than the overall population.

Similar trends hold true for Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people have jumped in October relative to population. The number of new COVID-19 cases among Native Americans has grown by about 75 percent in recent weeks.

October data also show newly confirmed cases accelerating among Latino people in Minnesota.

Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, particularly for undocumented immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.

More free testing scheduled in Minnesota communities

As Minnesota continues to see more than 1,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases a day, state health officials have scheduled another round of free testing sites this week.

Free testing will take place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Little Falls, Red Wing and Waconia, as well as Tuesday in Tyler, Thursday in Madison and Thursday and Friday in St. Paul.

Find more details — and schedule an appointment — on the Minnesota Department of Health website.

Officials said the free testing sites are targeted to areas with COVID-19 outbreaks, or barriers to accessing existing test sites.

Free saliva testing sites are now open in Duluth, Winona, Moorhead, Brooklyn Park and Mankato. Find more information here.

— MPR News Staff

Anoka-Hennepin district moving middle, high schools to distance learning

As school districts across Minnesota continue to monitor the latest COVID-19 trends, the state's largest district is among those changing its learning model.

The Anoka-Hennepin district announced Friday that its middle schools and high schools will move to distance learning starting Nov. 4, in response to local COVID-19 data. Elementary schools will remain in the hybrid learning model.

Those formats will remain in effect for at least a month.

The move to distance learning means high school activities and athletics will be canceled for the rest of the trimester in the Anoka-Hennepin district.

Schools across Minnesota are getting data and guidance from the state Health Department to help decide whether to have in-person learning, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two — and whether to adjust those models as the pandemic continues.

— MPR News Staff

MN launches in-home COVID-19 saliva testing program

The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday launched an at-home saliva testing pilot program in two dozen counties or tribal nations around the state. Most locations have few testing options and many are in greater Minnesota, where spread of the virus has been rapid in recent weeks.

The state has contracted with Vault Health to provide the saliva tests, which have been rolled out at in-person collection sites around the state.

People in these counties will be able to order the same test through the mail. It will be shipped to their home and performed with the help of a health care professional over the internet. The test will then be shipped to a facility in Oakdale, and results will be available electronically in 24-48 hours.

Test-takers will be asked for insurance information, but it will be free if insurance won't cover it or if they don't have insurance.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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