Wednesday’s COVID-19 data offered a grim reminder of the pandemic’s ongoing toll in Minnesota. The Health Department reported 35 deaths, tying a single-day record from May.
Nearly 1,100 newly reported cases of the disease Wednesday continued an October of new case counts averaging more than 1,000 a day.
Hospital admissions continue to climb. Minnesota’s seven-day trend of newly reported hospital admissions set a record high, averaging 80 a day over the last week.
State officials expected that late summer and early fall gatherings, sporting events and informal get-togethers among Minnesotans would deliver a surge of cases in October. They also anticipated the wave would put more people in the hospital and more deaths.
That appears to be happening.
Health authorities remain concerned that Minnesotans, fatigued by more than seven months of trying to stay vigilant, are letting their guard down in private settings, even as the virus spreads. Active confirmed cases of the disease remain at or near record highs.
Minnesota’s average positive test rate is now at 6.5 percent, above the 5 percent threshold where officials become concerned. It was below 5 percent two weeks ago.
Of the 126,591 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.
The deaths reported Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,281. Among those who’ve died, about 70 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems. That includes 25 of the 35 deaths reported Wednesday.
In south central Minnesota, Blue Earth County has the most confirmed cases, now at 1,979, including seven deaths. Rice County is next with 1,586 confirmed and nine deaths, while Steele County has 733 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 591 confirmed and five deaths; Nicollet County 689 confirmed and 17 deaths; Waseca County 918 confirmed and nine deaths; Goodhue County 528 confirmed and 11 deaths; Brown County 307 confirmed and three deaths; and Sibley County 240 confirmed and three deaths.
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 — more than 28,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 16,000 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 11,400 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Counts surging outside the Twin Cities metro area
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.
Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.
Central Minnesota cases are leaping relative to its population. It’s not clear why. Northern Minnesota, once by far the region least affected by the disease, has also seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks.
Deaths are also spiking in northern and central Minnesota.
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.
Data the past two weeks also show newly confirmed cases continuing to accelerate 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.
‘We need to take this seriously’
The newest numbers came after Minnesota officials, seeing rampant spread across the state, strongly suggested people rethink their holiday plans and avoid multifamily celebrations or big gatherings with friends.
Traditional year-end holiday gatherings may simply may be too risky in a pandemic, Jan Malcolm, the state’s health commissioner, said Monday.
“The transmission is everywhere, not just one or two sources or one or two kinds of settings. It’s the individual decisions that we’re all making fueling the rate of increase we’re seeing,” Malcolm cautioned. “We need to take this seriously.”
With cases outpacing testing levels, “we’re still not able to catch all the disease that’s out there,” Malcolm said. “The rate of viral presence is still very high and growing.”
While surges early in the pandemic were driven largely by illnesses tied to long-term care facilities and workplace sites such as meatpacking plants, officials say the current spread is diffused, making it even harder to trace and isolate cases.
“Going out for happy hour after work with your coworkers or getting together with a bunch of friends that you haven't seen for awhile, all of that seems pretty innocuous. But in reality all of those different interactions can lead to transmission,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told MPR News on Monday.
Later Monday, Ehresmann said Minnesotans should think about holiday gatherings of 10 or fewer this year instead of big potluck dinners across multiple families.
She and Malcolm again implored Minnesotans to take personal responsibility to stem the spread of the disease, including wearing masks in indoor public spaces, socially distancing and staying home if you feel ill.
Winter Carnival organizers say show will go on, with changes
Organizers of the St. Paul Winter Carnival say the annual celebration will go on next year, but with changes because of the pandemic.
The ice- and snow-carving events will move to drive-thru displays at the state fairgrounds, the St. Paul Heritage and Festival Foundation said. A 5K race around Lake Phalen will replace the usual runs out of downtown St. Paul. The two traditional parades have already been canceled.
Organizers say they are bringing back a softball tournament and moving the long-running jigsaw puzzle contest online via Zoom teleconferencing.
The Winter Carnival is scheduled for Jan. 28 through Feb. 7.
— Tim Nelson | MPR News
DFL state senator tests positive
A DFL state senator is in the quarantine phase after testing positive for COVID-19.
Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin said he test he took Oct. 8 came back positive. He sought the test after experiencing flu-like symptoms a few days earlier.
Sparks didn’t come to the Capitol for the recent special session and says he’s been doing his work remotely. A few other lawmakers have disclosed their own bouts with the virus since this spring.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News
Osterholm: Next 6-12 weeks will be 'darkest of the entire pandemic'
A University of Minnesota expert on infectious disease said that while coronavirus vaccines are in development, he's predicting that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
"The next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic," Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to third quarter of next year and even then half the U.S. population at this point are skeptical even taking the vaccine,” he added.
Osterholm said the trend in case increases is going in the wrong direction heading into winter, and he that the nation still is lacking a strong unified message on how best to combat COVID-19. He said Americans should not plan on traveling to visit relatives for upcoming holidays to prevent the virus from spreading.
— MPR News Staff
Smith tests negative after event attendee gets COVID-19
DFL Sen. Tina Smith said she’s tested negative for the coronavirus after learning someone at a recent campaign event now has COVID-19.
Smith briefly quarantined after learning of the potential exposure. But the senator said she was never in close contact with the person. Masks were required at the outdoor event held more than a week ago.
Smith announced Monday that she had a new test that didn’t detect the virus. She said she would travel back to Washington for Senate proceedings.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News