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’s COVID-19 numbers continue to paint a daunting picture of a rapidly worsening pandemic.

The Health Department on Tuesday reported 3,483 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease — a new one-day record, breaking the prior record set a few days ago. Caseloads have skyrocketed over the past month.

COVID-19 hospital admissions remained high and climbing. Health Department data Tuesday put the number at 852 people hospitalized now with 197 needing intensive care.

The newest numbers continue to show the outbreak is not limited to just one region of the state or one demographic group. Cases are at record levels and rising across the board. That’s different from earlier in the pandemic when outbreaks were concentrated in particular areas or demographics.

Tuesday’s data showed more than 20,000 active confirmed cases, yet another startling first in the pandemic.

Of the 157,096 cases of the disease confirmed in the pandemic to date, about 85 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Fifteen more deaths reported Tuesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,499. Among those who’ve died, about 70 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 2,254, including seven deaths. Rice County is next with 1,814 confirmed and 12 deaths, while Steele County has 874 confirmed and four deaths. Le Sueur County has 721 confirmed and six deaths; Nicollet County 829 confirmed and 18 deaths; Waseca County 967 confirmed and 10 deaths; Goodhue County 796 confirmed and 13 deaths; Brown County 422 confirmed and three deaths; and Sibley County 295 confirmed and three deaths.

‘It’s going to get worse’

Minnesota’s problems are multiplying amid record outbreaks among its neighbors to the east and west. An explosion of cases that turned October into one of Minnesota’s worst months in the pandemic is spilling over into November.

“Minnesota is in a bad spot … and it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Monday as she implored Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to stem the spread.

Health investigators, she added, are increasingly finding people with COVID-19 reluctant to provide details that would help trace the disease’s path. “This just accelerates the spread that were seeing even more,” she said.

“If we’re wondering what somebody else is going to do to fix this COVID problem, we’re missing the point,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday.

The positive test rate continues to climb, signaling that the increasing spread of the disease across the state. Officials watch that positive test rate closely and become concerned when it goes over 5 percent.

The seven-day average rate is currently more than 12 percent. The one-day rate from Tuesday’s reported data spiked to more than 30 percent.

The rampant spread is being driven now by the “thousands of seemingly small decisions” Minnesotans make daily to meet and gather with others without wearing masks, socially distancing or taking other steps to stem the spread, Malcolm told reporters last week.

She reiterated that Monday, noting that cases among health care workers are growing rapidly. They’re getting exposed in the community and bringing it into their health care workplaces.

“It’s not just one or two big notable events that’s causing this incredibly high level of community spread. It's a happy hour with a couple of friends, brunch on the weekends. It’s the weddings,” Malcolm said of the casual interactions now creating big problems. “These are the scenarios driving spread."

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 — more than 33,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 18,600 among people ages 20-24.

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 13,000 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.

That led Gov. Tim Walz last week to urge testing Minnesotans ages 18 to 35, a group he says is driving much of the asymptomatic virus spread.

"We want them to get tested so they can then know if they're infected so they can isolate,” added Dan Huff, an assistant state health commissioner. “That will help us stop that source of transmission in an area we just see as a major reservoir for the disease spreading out through the state."

Cases surging 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.

Newly reported cases have been highest in northwestern Minnesota. The data doesn’t explain why. However, cases are surging currently in the Dakotas. North Dakota and South Dakota have the country’s worst per-capita spread rates.

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.

Western and northwestern Minnesota continue to see cases rise swiftly relative to it population.

The top 12 counties with the worst spread in Minnesota are all outside the Twin Cities metro area, Ehresmann said Monday. Southwestern Minnesota is a particular concern, although unlike past outbreaks these can’t be tied to a meatpacking plant, event or workplace.

Latino, Indigenous 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.

MN opens saliva testing sites to Wisconsinites

As COVID-19 cases surge to the east, Gov. Tim Walz has opened saliva testing sites in St. Paul, Winona and Duluth to people living in Wisconsin, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Minnesota is investing at least $14 million of its federal CARES Act funding into saliva coronavirus testing, a process developed at Rutgers University and marketed by Vault Health.

Public health officials say it's a relatively easy and fast way to test more people for the virus.

Some of the Minnesota's CARES Act funding will go to covering the cost of the test, and Minnesota is working out an agreement to make sure Wisconsin covers the cost of the test for its residents.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Another round of free testing scheduled in Minnesota communities

Minnesota health officials have scheduled another round of free COVID-19 testing sites this week in communities around the state.

The free nasal swab tests will be offered Wednesday and Thursday in Burnsville, Fergus Falls, Mora and Pipestone.

Find more details — and schedule an appointment — on the Minnesota Department of Health website.

Officials said the free testing sites are targeted to areas with COVID-19 outbreaks, or barriers to accessing existing test sites.

Free saliva testing sites are now open in Duluth, Winona, Moorhead, Brooklyn Park, Mankato, St. Cloud and St. Paul. Find more information here.

— MPR News Staff

Surge has dire impacts on Mayo’s NW Wisconsin system

Mayo Clinic's northwest Wisconsin system is halting elective procedures as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge.

Hospital officials say they're going to shift staff and beds to handle COVID-19 patients.

In the last week, the region's COVID-19 hospitalization load has doubled from 35 to 70. It’s the highest COVID-19 case load in the entire Mayo system.

Regional administration leader Jason Craig said a combination of high case counts, hospitalizations and limited staff have created a dire situation.

"What you saw on the news earlier this year in the spring in place like New York City, that's happening in the Chippewa Valley right now," he said.

More than 230 staff in the system are out because of COVID-19, he said, either because they have tested positive or because they are quarantining after being exposed. Craig said many of these cases are the result of community transmission.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Polling places in MN cities along the Mississippi get masks for Election Day

Thousands of masks have been shipped to polling places along the entire length of the Mississippi River, including cities in Minnesota.

Leaders at the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative coordinated and paid for the PPE deliveries. They say because of dwindling city revenue during the pandemic, some communities can’t afford election day safety measures on their own.

Red Wing, Minn., Mayor Sean Dowse said the city has been cutting taxes and forgiving fees, trying to keep the local economy afloat, so there’s not much money left over for protective gear.

“Minnesota is dealing with a long gradual rise in contagion, it’s really taxing our resources. In my county, Goodhue, new cases have peaked just this last week, and may continue and upward trend for the next few weeks,” Dowse said.

He said the masks will be given mostly to voters arriving at the polls without their own protective gear. Dowse said he hopes the additional gear will help blunt the spike in COVID-19 cases Minnesota has seen this week.

— John Enger | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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