COVID-19 Latest June 25

Two signs posted on the door of HealthPartners's Stillwater Medical Group clinic in March. Health officials say they’re increasingly concerned that people with serious health problems who need emergency room care are not seeking that care and that parents are not keeping up with regular vaccinations for their children because of COVID-19 fears. (Mark Zdechlik/MPR News file)

Minnesota’s COVID-19 toll continued to rise Thursday with 13 more deaths and 500 new cases reported, but trends in intensive care cases still suggest a hopeful, downward trend.

The newest deaths brought the total to 1,458 since the pandemic began. But the average daily count since mid-June remains in the single digits.

The count of people currently hospitalized rose to 274 but the number needing intensive care dipped to 123. The daily ICU count is the lowest its been since late April and overall hospitalizations have trended downward over the past few weeks.

Minnesota now has 37,210 positive tests for the disease during the outbreak. About 86 percent of those testing positive have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 827, including seven deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 442 confirmed and two deaths, while Steele County has 223 confirmed and one death. Le Sueur County has 91 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 155 confirmed and 12 deaths; Waseca County 62 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 127 confirmed and eight deaths; Brown County 31 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 53 confirmed and two deaths.

Public Health officials in Rice County noted that at least part of the higher number of cases in that county can be attributed to a higher rate of testing. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, officials said.

In the Mankato area, including Blue Earth, Nicollet and Le Sueur counties, public officials reported a spike in cases among young people who recently patronized bars.

Fears of the Fourth

The newest counts come amid worry about new outbreaks if people ease up on safety measures over the July Fourth holiday weekend.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and others are imploring groups gathering over the Fourth of July to meet outdoors instead of inside and to wear masks and social distance even when outside.

The median age of confirmed cases in Minnesota has been dipping and is now just under 39 years old, Malcolm noted Wednesday as she cautioned young adults to not let their guard down.

“Remember that you’re not invincible and neither are your loved ones,” she said, adding that young people risk spreading the disease to grandparents and other potentially vulnerable family members.

Gov. Tim Walz is concerned enough about potential outbreaks that he said earlier this week he’s considering a statewide mask mandate.

Malcolm on Wednesday reiterated that the governor is “very seriously considering” a mask requirement.

Inflammatory condition surfaces in some MN kids

Officials on Wednesday also confirmed 13 cases of Minnesota children diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a condition believed to be related to COVID-19 that’s proven to be deadly in New York.

While the disease has not killed a Minnesota child, it sent eight of the 13 to intensive care, state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield

And as health officials warned of this mysterious new condition, cautioned Minnesotans to brace for an ongoing coexistence with COVID-19.

The children developed symptoms between mid-May and mid-June; their average age was 5, and most had no prior medical problems, she said.

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 928 confirmed cases as of Wednesday.

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,655 confirmed cases Wednesday. About 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May.

An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Wednesday, confirmed cases were at 2,287 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, the Health Department reported 565 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Tuesday. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Cottonwood County (134 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County (300 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall.

Bar-driven clusters in Mankato, Minneapolis, St. Cloud

Malcolm said Monday there are likely more than 200 positive cases in Mankato and at least 100 in Minneapolis tied to bar-hopping outbreaks, an increase from past estimates.

All those sickened were in their 20s and had gone to the Mankato bars Rounders and The 507, or Minneapolis bars Cowboy Jack’s and Kollege Klub.

Minnesota’s early sacrifices to limit COVID-19’s spread “will be undermined if we don’t get cooperation from all Minnesotans, especially younger Minnesotans, who are most active and social,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters.

Social media from those bars shows they were crowded, with no room for social distancing, and people who were standing and not masked, so not following the state guidance, Ehresmann said.

“These are not just suggestions,” Malcolm said of the rules in bars and public spaces.

Officials also note cases in Stearns County, where state officials are investigating a cluster of 18-26 year olds who appear to have gotten the virus at a bar. At least 47 cases have been connected to the Pickled Loon in St. Cloud.

‘With us for awhile’

Even when the COVID-19 pandemic reaches a “herd immunity” stage, research is indicating that immunity is not going to be as long-lasting as, say, measles.

COVID-19 immunity “may last for a period of months to a couple of years,” Lynfield said Wednesday.

“We will have to learn more about this. It does mean that this virus is going to be with us for awhile,” she added. “I know everybody is sick and tired of preventive measures and want to get back to normal, but it’s going to be awhile.”

HealthPartners permanently closing several clinics

HealthPartners is making changes to a number of clinics and facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, including behavioral health care and substance use.

Six clinics that were shut down during the crisis will not reopen. Clinicians will see patients at other facilities. And the behavioral health clinic in Maplewood, an inpatient substance use program at Regions Hospital, and a clinic in Sartell will also close permanently.

For now, patients will continue to get care through telehealth and telephone. When in-person visits start up again, patients will see their providers at other sites.

— Alisa Roth | MPR News

Children’s Theatre announces steep budget, staffing cuts

The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis is the latest Minnesota arts organization to make significant budget and staffing cuts amid the pandemic.

The administration of the company announced it's cutting its annual budget for the 2020-21 season by 50 percent. It's eliminating 15 full-time positions, furloughing 27 full-time positions and instituting a two-week furlough for the remaining 28 staff members. Nearly all part-time positions are on furlough. Managing director Kimberly Motes and artistic director Peter C. Brosius are taking a 24 percent reduction in compensation.

“It is devastating and heartbreaking that we have to reduce our staff due to the loss of live programming on our stages and in classrooms as well as the loss of revenue as a result of the pandemic,” Motes said in a statement Wednesday. “As we have tried for months to figure out what is possible next season, we have confronted the brutal reality of this virus and its impact on young people and families.”

The company's next show is scheduled for March. The announcement comes on the heels of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Guthrie Theater all making similar budget and staff cuts.

— Marianne Combs | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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