COVID-19 Latest Oct. 27

Hand sanitizer stations and stickers requesting social distancing were set up at the New Ulm Community Center in August in order to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 with in-person primary election voting. (Hannah Yang/MPR News file)

Minnesota reported nearly 4,000 newly confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 on Monday. That’s down from Sunday record, but it still wasn’t good news.

A drop in testing volume explained the drop from Sunday’s report. The positive test rate, a key measure of whether the disease is spreading, continued to climb.

Nineteen more people were reported to have died from the disease. Death counts are rising inside and outside long-term care facilities.

More than 1,000 people are in Minnesota hospital beds now from COVID-19, including more than 200 needing intensive care.

The newest numbers come after a week of record case increases — more than 31,000 new cases reported since last Monday — as hospitalizations and deaths climbed steeply. A tough October became a brutal first week of November. Officials bracing Minnesotans for things to worsen before they improve.

Uncontrolled spread is being fueled by Minnesotans’ informal gatherings and get-togethers with family and friends where it’s spread unknowingly by people who have the virus but do not have symptoms, officials say.

“Our behavior is driving this … literally thousands and thousands of small decisions happening around Minnesota that are the issue here,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Friday.

Of the 184,788 confirmed or probable cases identified in the pandemic to date, about 81 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

The deaths reported Monday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,675. Among those who’ve died, about 69 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

In south central Minnesota, Blue Earth County has the most confirmed cases, now at 2,582, including seven deaths. Rice County is next with 2,169 confirmed and 15 deaths, while Steele County has 1,021 confirmed and four deaths. Le Sueur County has 845 confirmed and six deaths; Nicollet County 963 confirmed and 20 deaths; Waseca County 1,013 confirmed and 10 deaths; Goodhue County 983 confirmed and 17 deaths; Brown County 584 confirmed and five deaths; and Sibley County 356 confirmed and three deaths.

Caseloads rising across age groups

New cases are up dramatically over the past month in all age groups.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — nearly 40,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 22,000 among people ages 20-24.

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 15,600 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

Those numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about teens and 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. It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.

Virus surges along Minnesota’s western border

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.

Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases. 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 especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent. 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 jumped in October relative to population.

October data also show newly confirmed cases accelerating 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.

‘Minnesota is in a bad spot’

The overall numbers continue to paint a troubling picture of a rapidly worsening pandemic in Minnesota. The latest numbers continue to show rampant spread across 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,” Malcolm said last week.

Staffing is becoming a challenge as more health care workers get sick, she added.

“Minnesota is in a bad spot … and it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Ehresmann told reporters.

While more testing is uncovering more cases, “it’s not the testing that’s the problem,” Ehresmann said. “It’s the sheer fact that we have so much virus circulating in our state.”

Malcolm on Friday faced repeated questions from reporters about whether the increasingly dire situation of skyrocketing cases, hospitalizations and deaths would compel Gov. Tim Walz to reimpose more restrictions on daily life similar to what Minnesota went through in the spring.

“If Minnesotans were following the guidelines that currently exist, we wouldn’t need further dial backs,” she said. “We just need to keep getting that message out.”

MN opening more sites for free COVID testing

Minnesota is adding more than a dozen new COVID-19 testing locations over the next couple of weeks, including 10 in armories around the state and several locations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Testing will be free and available to anyone who wants to be tested whether they have symptoms or not, and it will not require insurance, the state announced Monday.

— MPR News Staff

New Walz order allows teachers more time to prepare for distance learning

A new executive order from Gov. Tim Walz gives teachers more time to prepare for teaching in distance and hybrid learning scenarios.

The new order mandates that districts build in more time to each school day for K-12 teachers to plan their lessons. Now schools must set aside 30 minutes of preparation each day in places where educators are teaching full-time distance learning or a combination of distance and in-person instruction.

The order comes after many teachers raised concerns about not having enough time to prepare for a drastically different learning model as schools have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes may mean schools will have to adjust their schedules. Districts have until Nov. 30 to implement the new order.

— Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Wisconsin tops 6,000 new virus cases, setting record

Wisconsin topped more than 6,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday for the first time, setting a new record as COVID-19 continues to rage across the state.

Also on Friday, a state appeals court ruled that an order from Gov. Tony Evers' administration to limit how many people can gather in bars, restaurants and other indoor venues was invalid and unenforceable. The on again-off again order, first issued on Oct. 6, had not been in effect since an appeals court blocked it on Oct. 23.

The order, had it been in effect, was scheduled to expire on Friday. The appeals court said the order issued by Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm should have gone through the rule-making process, which requires legislative approval.

Evers issued the order as a way to curb the spread of the virus, which has been surging since mid-September. On Friday, there were 6,141 new cases, an all-time daily high, and 62 more deaths. To date, 2,256 people have died from the virus.

The seven-day average of new cases topped 5,000, more than five-times as high as it was two weeks ago, the state Department of Health Services reported. Wisconsin ranked third in new cases per capita over the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins.

Evers pursued the capacity limits as part of his strategy to combat the virus. A statewide mask mandate remains in effect, but it's being challenged by a conservative law firm and Republicans who control the Legislature. Evers has blasted Republicans for not convening the Legislature to take action on the virus since they last met in April.

The capacity limit rule was first challenged by the Tavern League of Wisconsin and the appeal was taken up by The Mix-Up Bar in Amery and Pro-Life Wisconsin, which argued that its ability to hold fundraisers indoors was hindered by the order limiting capacity to no more than 25 percent.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court also previously struck down Evers' “safer at home” order in May, saying it should have gone through the Legislature as an administrative rule.

— The Associated Press

Allina seeking volunteers for COVID vaccine trial

Allina Health is looking for volunteers for a clinical trial of one of the major coronavirus vaccines.

Sixty-thousand people will take part in study through 190 locations around the world. Half will get the medicine and the other half will get a placebo.

Dr. Frank Rhame is the principle investigator for the Allina site. He said they're looking volunteers who are 18 and older.

"You want to start with healthy people first [to] get some sense that it's a good idea, that it's working and there's no unexpected side effects. But you also want to get the people who have comorbidities in there because they're the ones that suffer the most and you need to be sure that it works in those groups as well."

Rhame said researchers are especially seeking low-income people and people of color for their study to ensure the vaccine is properly tested on those populations. Those wishing to participate can get more information here.

— Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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