New confirmed cases of COVID-19 are back on the march after several days of plateauing. The Health Department Thursday reported 867 new cases.
The number of people currently hospitalized (319) and the subset needing intensive care (153) also inched up after a brief dip.
Of the 58,640 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, about 89 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
Seven more people died, bringing the total to 1,636 since the pandemic began. Among those who’ve died, about 76 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.
In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 1,013, including eight deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 874 confirmed and five deaths, while Steele County has 338 confirmed and one death. Le Sueur County has 210 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 329 confirmed and 13 deaths; Waseca County 138 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 187 confirmed and eight deaths; Brown County 86 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 82 confirmed and two deaths.
Get a flu shot
The newest numbers come a day after Minnesota’s health commissioner called on Minnesotans to get vaccinated for the fall flu season and warned the Sturgis, S.D., motorcycle rally that starts Friday will be a “ripe environment” for COVID-19 spread.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Wednesday called on people to make sure they and any children in their care get flu shots. She noted that vaccinations among kids had dropped during the COVID-19 outbreak, although the situation has improved recently.
“It’s going to be so critical for Minnesotans to get their flu shots this fall” so that the health care system isn’t overwhelmed by flu and “what we expect to be additional cases of COVID-19 this fall,” she added.
Officials have been increasingly concerned about a one-two punch of COVID-19 and the flu this fall. Moves starting in late March to shut down businesses, restaurants and retail establishments to fight COVID-19 spread also short-circuited the spring flu season.
While current hospitalizations remain far lower than their late-May peak, they’ve shown an upward swing the past few weeks even as the daily growth in new cases flattened.
Cases bubble across age brackets, up north
Worries remain 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.
“Consider all the roles you play” in all daily interactions, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, cautioned last week. People who might not worry about themselves should worry about infecting vulnerable family members and coworkers, she added.
Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic — nearly 14,000
The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.
Regionally, the Twin Cities and its suburbs have been driving the newly reported cases.
The seven-county Twin Cities metro area represents more than two-thirds of new COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and has accounted for a disproportionate share of the state’s cases since mid-May when southern Minnesota’s meatpacking hot spots were surging.
But the disease is present in all parts of the state, including the north, which had largely avoided the outbreak until recently.
Northern Minnesota is now seeing about the same number of new cases per capita as hard-hit southern Minnesota.
Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past two weeks, increasing to 215 as of Thursday. Most of the counties seeing a jump in case growth relative to their population are in northern and central Minnesota.
Meatpacking operations had been hot spots for big outbreaks in southwest, west-central and central Minnesota earlier in the pandemic, but new cases have slowed considerably in recent weeks.
The case increases the past few week in Minnesota have caught the attention of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in a Monday interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association named Minnesota among a handful of states that should reconsider reimposing some restrictions given the trends.
Sturgis a ‘pretty ripe environment’ for spread
Malcolm and other state public health leaders have warned that the upcoming Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota could be a potential petri dish for spreading the virus here and across the nation.
The nine-day event is expected to attract more than 250,000 riders and their friends from around the country to the Black Hills, leading Minnesota health leaders to worry about the disease making its way back here.
Malcolm on Wednesday reiterated those concerns, saying she was disappointed South Dakota had OK’d the Sturgis rally this year given that the state is seeing a significant surge in cases and the rally would be attracting people from around the country, including places where COVID-19 cases are climbing.
The Sturgis rally, she said, will be a “pretty ripe environment for further spread.”
The length of the rally from Friday through Aug. 16, will mean prolonged exposure for many, and the long-distance travel by many riders means they may carry the virus home and touch off other outbreaks, Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told MPR News Monday.
“Come mid-August to late August, early September,” Osterholm said, “Sturgis will have one hell of an imprint on this country.”
Malcolm on Wednesday said those headed for Sturgis should watch for symptoms and perhaps even get tested for COVID-19 a week after coming home, even if they aren’t symptomatic.
Self-quarantining for 14 days, she added, would also be a “really prudent and really thoughtful thing to do.”