COVID-19 Latest

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

Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers resumed a familiar pattern Thursday with new cases climbing as daily deaths slipped back into single digits and hospitalizations remained stubbornly persistent.

The Health Department reported 697 new cases and seven more deaths. Current hospitalizations (308) fell from Wednesday’s report while those hospitalized and needing intensive care (154) was unchanged.

While hospitalizations and ICU needs remain far lower than their late-May peak, they showed an upward swing in July and have flattened at just over 300 daily cases during August.

Wednesday marked the 14th consecutive day with 300 or more current hospitalizations — a pattern not seen since mid- to late June.

The newest counts come as COVID-19 watchers try to figure out the disease’s current course given the past few days of statistics.

Moderate new case counts reported Tuesday and Wednesday were likely due to low, unexplained levels of testing that made it hard to judge if there was evidence of a change in the disease’s path or simply a statistical blip.

Thursday’s increase in new reported cases was tied to a rise in new testing from the very low figures of the last few days.

Of the 62,993 total confirmed cases of the disease since the pandemic began, about 89 percent have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

Among the 1,685 people confirmed to have died from the disease in Minnesota, about 75 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 1,046, including eight deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 946 confirmed and five deaths, while Steele County has 356 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 230 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 356 confirmed and 13 deaths; Waseca County 156 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 205 confirmed and nine deaths; Brown County 92 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 86 confirmed and two deaths.

School recommendation map shifts with new data

Elementary school students in Ramsey and Dakota counties would no longer be recommended to attend school in person — if school started this week — due to rising COVID-19 cases there.

Data released Thursday by the Health Department indicate 11 counties, including Ramsey and Dakota, should shift away from in-person learning because of rising cases. Schools in another 14 counties, largely in the southern part of the state, would be recommended to shift toward in-person learning.

The other 62 counties in the state saw no change in their recommendations. These recommendations are based on COVID-19 cases per capita over a 14-day period.

The map is meant to be a starting point for school districts as they weigh their mix of in-person and online instruction in the COVID-19 era. The numbers, and the accompanying recommendations, are updated every week now.

Counties with very few cases per capita are recommended to have in-person learning for all students — 48 counties as of Aug. 13.

With more cases, schools are urged to have secondary students do a mix of in-person and distance learning while still doing in-person school for elementary grades. Another 29 counties fall into that category.

There are eight counties currently recommended to have hybrid learning for all students, including Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Scott, Sherburne and Blue Earth counties.

Two counties have so many cases that the state currently recommends upper-grade students there study remotely full-time: Rock County in southwestern Minnesota, and Red Lake County in northwestern Minnesota.

Cases grow among 20-somethings, up north

Worries continue about the growth of COVID-19 among younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable people.

People in their 20s remain the age group with the highest number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in the pandemic — more than 14,500.

The past few days of data show Minnesotans younger than age 20 have been running close to 20-somethings for most new cases, although those numbers have slipped.

The median age of Minnesotans who are confirmed infected is 36. That’s been trending down in recent weeks.

Regionally, the Twin Cities and its suburbs have been driving the counts of newly reported cases.

New cases, though, have slowed dramatically in the Twin Cities metro area the past few days while the numbers in northern and southern Minnesota continue to rise.

Several of the state’s fastest-growing outbreaks relative to population are in northern Minnesota. Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, has seen a steady climb the past few weeks. The county reported 264 cases as of Thursday.

Meatpacking operations had been hot spots for big outbreaks in southwest, west-central and central Minnesota earlier in the pandemic.

New cases have slowed considerably in recent weeks, although the problem has resurfaced recently in McLeod County (224 cases), where more than 20 employees at a Seneca Foods plant in Glencoe have been identified in an outbreak.

‘We are all connected’

Thursday’s counts come days after Minnesota health officials, increasingly concerned over reports of despondent residents in long-term care, rolled out new guidance designed to open the door wider to visitors.

“Loneliness, depression, isolation and heartbreak are all safety issues,” Aisha Elmquist, the state’s deputy ombudsman for long-term care, told reporters Monday as she and other public health leaders answered questions around the latest COVID-19 data.

“Everyone needs others,” she added, “including those who live in long-term care settings.”

Most of the people who’ve died from COVID-19 in Minnesota had been living in long-term care. That toll is one of the reasons long-term care has faced steep visitor restrictions.

In early May, the Walz administration unveiled a “battle plan” to safeguard Minnesotans living in long-term care facilities, including expanded testing, more personal protective gear for health workers and a promise to maintain “adequate” staffing when workers fall ill.

It helped drive daily death counts down to mostly single digits. Now, though, officials worry those gains may slip away as COVID-19 ripples across the state.

They said they’re seeing new cases tied to long-term care facilities that they believe are being driven largely by community spread and brought in inadvertently by facility staff as restrictions on daily life loosen and people return to indoor gathering spaces and attend family events.

The big-picture situation in long-term care is “quite positive,” Jan Malcolm said Monday, noting that 90 percent of assisted living facilities in Minnesota and 71 percent of skilled nursing homes have had no cases of COVID-19 in the past 28 days.

Still, state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield urged people to stay vigilant against the spread of the disease — wearing masks in indoor gathering places, social distancing and washing hands — and warned that the work to limit spread among vulnerable populations was at risk as people return to public spaces.

“This is fragile and we are very concerned that the progress we have made can be at risk, and can even be lost, if we let up on our precautions,” she said Monday. “We need everyone in Minnesota to be doing their part to limit transmission. We are all connected to each other.”

COVID-19 peacetime emergency extended for another 30 days

The peacetime emergency that Gov. Tim Walz has used to manage Minnesota’s coronavirus response will last at least another 30 days.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the state Executive Council extended his authority. It gives the Walz administration power to spend money and issue directives without running them past the Legislature first.

“While obviously a great deal has changed since March, some things remain the same, which is we are very much in the middle of the active pandemic and require rapid actions to do our best to keep this epidemic under control,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

Republican legislators argue the Walz powers have been in place for too long and should be reined in. Walz first declared the health emergency in March.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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