High testing levels again pushed Minnesota’s new confirmed COVID-19 counts higher, with the Health Department on Monday reporting another 936 cases.
The newest numbers come following a week where much of the data used to understand the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota trended the wrong way.
Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 case count jumped by more than 2,500 over the weekend, as the state’s death toll from the pandemic surpassed 2,000.
Spread is being driven largely now by weddings, funerals and informal get-togethers among friends and families who are not staying vigilant against the disease, state officials say.
New counts of active confirmed cases remain at or near record highs in the pandemic, so much so that a group of public health and crisis experts downgraded Minnesota to “uncontrolled spread” status among states.
Of the 97,638 confirmed cases of the disease tallied in the pandemic to date, about 89 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
Seven more deaths reported Monday put Minnesota’s toll to 2,015. Among those who’ve died, about 72 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.
The latest report marks a record high number of tests reported on a Monday, when testing is usually down. For the first time in the pandemic, the state is averaging more than 20,000 tests per day.
In south central Minnesota, Blue Earth County has the most confirmed cases, now at 1,726, including six deaths. Rice County is next with 1,343 confirmed and eight deaths, while Steele County has 555 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 474 confirmed and four deaths; Nicollet County 545 confirmed and 17 deaths; Waseca County 689 confirmed and eight deaths; Goodhue County 382 confirmed and nine deaths; Brown County 196 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 199 confirmed and three deaths.
Worries continue around college students, kids
People in their 20s make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — approaching 23,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 13,200 infections 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 campuses completely to in-person teaching.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 9,200 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
With many schools in Minnesota attempting to teach in-person, officials say they are especially concerned about the rising numbers of teens becoming infected and how that could affect decisions to keep school buildings open.
Southern, central Minnesota drive spread
Regionally, southern and central Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs have driven much of the increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.
Hot spots have included southwestern Minnesota, where at least 75 cases have been traced to a late-August wedding in Lyon County that officials have described as the state’s largest single social spreader event.
Southeastern Minnesota, specifically Winona, has been another hot spot as students return to college at Winona State and other schools. The problem has been compounded by similar outbreaks nearby across the Mississippi River at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Health Dept. warns businesses of mask-related phone scams
The Minnesota Department of Health is cautioning restaurant and bar owners about phone scams tied to the state's mask mandate.
Officials say they've received reports businesses are receiving calls claiming they need to pay a fine for masking violations after a compliance check.
In at least one case, the fraudulent calls targeted a business in an area where officials had not done any checks.
The Health Department said it is not issuing any fines on an initial inspection, and that it's emphasizing education about the rules.
— MPR News Staff
More free COVID-19 testing sites announced
Six cities across the state will have free COVID-19 testing this week as part of community testing efforts by the Minnesota Department of Health.
There will be testing sites Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Bemidji, Bloomington, Maplewood, Marshall, Moorhead and Thief River Falls. There's also testing next Saturday in Maplewood.
Find a complete list of locations and times here.
MDH said you don’t need insurance or identification, and you can get tested even if you don’t have symptoms. They're asking people to make an appointment ahead of time — more information is on the state health department website.
The testing sites are intended for those local communities; if you live farther away, MDH suggests getting tested at your local clinic.
— MPR News Staff
Virus spread shifts the school guidance map
The evolving COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota continues to change school reopening recommendations around the state.
The most recent batch of recommendations, released Sept. 17, cover cases from Aug. 23 to Sept. 5 — a period that happened to see a late-August spike in new COVID-19 cases.
The result? A full 25 counties saw their COVID-19 case counts slip past one of the Health Department’s thresholds, changing their recommendation toward more distance learning for more students.
In the most recent update, six counties are recommended to have all students do full-time distance learning: Blue Earth, Lyon, Stevens, Waseca, Winona and Yellow Medicine counties. All but Waseca County were previously recommended to allow at least some in-person learning.
Not every county got worse. Eleven counties saw their case rates improve compared to last week’s results, and saw their recommendation shift to more in-person learning.
Overall, 24 largely rural counties have a recommendation of in-person for all students.
A formula produced by the Health Department generates the guidance for districts to help decide whether to have in-person learning, distance learning, or a mix, based on the rate of COVID-19 cases in that district’s county over a two-week period.
These recommendations are only considered the starting point for school districts, which make their own learning plans in cooperation with the Health Department.
Minnesota’s yo-yoing COVID-19 case numbers in recent weeks have meant some drastic swings in school districts’ safe learning recommendations, but state health officials say they’re taking the data irregularities into account when working with schools to set learning plans.
Because Minnesota’s calculation uses weeks-old data and calculates cases by the day a person got tested rather than the day the tests were reported, this update is not affected by recent reporting delays caused by the Labor Day weekend.
— David H. Montgomery | MPR News