Minnesota’s summer swing in COVID-19 cases continues. While it remains relatively mild compared to earlier surges, Wednesday’s numbers make it clear the disease has at least one more punch to deliver.

New caseloads are trending at about 400 a day over the past seven reporting days, up dramatically from 150 two weeks ago. Active cases topped 3,000 for the first time since late May.

“The speed of case growth is truly concerning,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday as she and other officials laid out their support for the latest federal guidance calling for all students, staff and visitors to K-12 school buildings to wear masks, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated.

Hospital and intensive care needs are all heading higher again — 202 people are in hospital beds currently with COVID-19, including 56 needing intensive care — and the rate of tests coming back positive for the disease is edging back up toward the 5% threshold that officials find concerning.

State public health leaders on Monday placed a heavy emphasis on the need to boost vaccinations to head off the highly contagious delta strain, which they said is now driving 75% of new cases.

The state is in a much better position than in November or April thanks to vaccinations. Nearly 70% of state residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccination shot.

Officials hope to reach that 70% threshold by the end of August, although the rate of vaccination continues to sputter along.

Still, there are wide gaps in the vaccination rate among Minnesota regions.

New deaths remain relatively low. There were four newly reported deaths posted Wednesday. Still, deaths are a lagging statistic that tends to rise following a surge in cases.

Delta variant worry drives school masking guidance

State health officials say the guidance — including urging everyone in K-12 schools to be masked — is intended to “protect those who cannot yet be vaccinated or who remain at higher risk because of immune-comprised status or other conditions.”

New information shows people infected with the delta variant can have high viral loads so that even fully vaccinated people carrying delta could spread it to others, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Wednesday.

The recommendations also urge anyone 12 and older to get vaccinated before returning to in-person school, sports and other activities, and that those not fully vaccinated should get tested regularly.

Officials stressed that these were recommendations and not mandates, and that local school leaders will make the decisions. The state had required masks for the last school year, but the general statewide mandate was lifted in May. Gov. Tim Walz does not currently have the authority to order mask wearing.

The CDC said Tuesday that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in parts of the United States where the disease is surging.

Under this guidance, counties where COVID-19 is prevalent enough that they’d recommend all people — even those vaccinated — wear masks in public. As of Wednesday, that included Waseca, Dodge and Scott counties in southern Minnesota.

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