COVID-19 continues to rage in Minnesota, pushing hospitalizations and deaths higher.
The Health Department on Monday reported another 7,444 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease, another high count following a record two-day increase over the weekend of more than 16,000 new cases.
Hospitalizations continued to climb, with the seven-day new admissions trend hitting a record.
The state’s active caseload is now more than 48,000, nearly three times the number of people known to be actively infected with COVID-19 from two weeks ago.
More than 1,500 people were in Minnesota hospitals now because of COVID-19, with more than 300 needing intensive care, according to Health Department data.
The spiking case count is a signal that hospitalizations and deaths likely will continue to climb in the coming weeks, as those numbers lag behind positive tests.
Of the 231,018 confirmed or probable cases identified in the pandemic to date, about 78 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
Twelve deaths reported Monday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,917. Among those who’ve died, about 69 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
Caseloads rising across age groups
New cases have been spiking the past two weeks in all age groups.
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 47,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 26,000 among people ages 20-24.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 18,500 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
The numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about teens and young adults as spreaders of the virus.
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.
Walz said recently the state has data showing infection rates rising around bar and restaurant activity after 9 p.m. among young adults, noting that people who have the virus but don’t have symptoms are unwittingly spreading it.
Virus surges in swaths of rural Minnesota
Regionally, central and northern 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.
The fastest growing outbreaks are along the state’s western border with the Dakotas, where the virus is spreading unchecked. But new cases are rising at accelerating rates everywhere in Minnesota.
Collectively, rural areas continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases per capita.
Northern Minnesota, once the region least affected by the disease, has also seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks.
Latino cases jump
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.
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 hold true for Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
Cases among all races and ethnicities continue to rise, although currently the growth is slowest among Black Minnesotans, who reported the most new COVID-19 cases per capita for much of the spring and summer.
‘So much community spread’
The overall numbers continue to paint a troubling picture of a rapidly worsening pandemic in Minnesota not limited to just one region or demographic group, like earlier in the pandemic.
There’s increasing concern about the ability of hospitals to handle more. They were already filling in the summer and fall from normal use, and the surge in COVID-19 patients is putting hospitals in the Twin Cities “near the top of their capacity,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said earlier this month.
Staffing is becoming a challenge as more health care workers get sick, she reiterated on Friday.
“There is so much community spread … hundreds of thousands of decisions that area being made every day” are fueling the rate of infections.
Walz on Friday signaled that more restrictions on daily life may be needed as the pandemic continues to rage in Minnesota, with the worst still to come. “I think more changes will probably have to happen,” he told reporters.
While a complete lockdown of the state’s economic and social life was unlikely, the governor indicated more moves may be coming beyond his latest order closing bars and restaurants to indoor service after 10 p.m., which kicked in Friday night.
He again implored people to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance and stay home if you don’t feel well. “It is time to suck it up and get through this.”
Health Department case investigations indicate bar and restaurant patrons are twice as likely to spread the coronavirus in hospitality settings after 9 p.m., state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann told MPR News Monday morning.
“As you get later in the evening … there's more interaction. You've probably had a couple of drinks,” she said. “All of those things may reduce inhibitions and people who went into the evening with good intentions to social distance and things may not be able to keep that up.”
Health Department to start tracing efforts with texts
Beginning Monday, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been in contact with a positive case will be notified by text before receiving a phone call from a contract tracer.
The hope is to increase the rate of answered or returned phone calls to contact tracers. The text will include the contact tracer’s number.
“The idea is to more effectively reach and inform those who test positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts about what they need to do to prevent further spread and to better protect the state’s most vulnerable populations through improved outreach and communication,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Friday.