COVID-19 hospitalizations resumed their upward climb Friday, continuing a trend that’s been worrying Minnesota pubic health officials for weeks.
The state Health Department reported 312 people currently hospitalized for the disease, with 151 of those needing intensive care. Both of those closely watched metrics have risen to levels not seen in more than a month.
While hospitalizations still remain far lower now than at the late-May peak, officials have been bracing Minnesotans to expect a surge following a weekslong climb in new confirmed cases. That appears to be happening.
The department confirmed 779 more cases Friday, along with six more deaths — putting Minnesota at a grim milestone of 1,600 deaths since the pandemic began.
Of the 54,463 total confirmed COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, about 88 percent of those infected 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 975, including eight deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 824 confirmed and four deaths, while Steele County has 321 confirmed and one death. Le Sueur County has 196 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 298 confirmed and 13 deaths; Waseca County 128 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 169 confirmed and eight deaths; Brown County 79 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 76 confirmed and two deaths.
The newest numbers come a day after Gov. Tim Walz rolled out his "localized, data-driven” plan for returning to school in the fall.
The statewide plan calls for returning to in-person classroom teaching when possible. But the plan left districts to decide whether their school systems will start the year in buildings, online or some combination — based on their local COVID-19 conditions, which aren’t getting better in most places.
‘Contributing to solution — or to the crisis’
Public health leaders this week have been ratcheting up their concerns that Minnesota is back on the wrong path in its fight against COVID-19’s spread.
With every decision Minnesotans make now about masking or not masking, socially distancing or not, “you are contributing to the solution, or to the crisis,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.
Wednesday marked the first time in a month that total current hospitalizations rose above 300, the product of a weekslong upswing in new confirmed infections, coming a day after Minnesota saw one of its largest one-day increases in hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
“As we have feared, we are seeing our hospitalizations begin to increase, and I don’t think it’s just a blip,” Ehresmann said.
Cases growing across age brackets, up north
Worries remain about the growth of coronavirus cases in younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable populations.
Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic, with more than 12,500. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.
Investigators continue to see rising cases with bars and restaurants at their center and are examining outbreaks in 28 establishments, Ehresmann said.
“Consider all the roles you play” in all daily interactions, she cautioned, noting that people who might not worry about themselves should worry about infecting vulnerable family members and coworkers.
Regionally, newly reported cases have been driven recently by the Twin Cities and its suburbs, but it’s present in all parts of the state, including the north, which had largely avoided the outbreak until recently.
Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past week and a half, from 53 to 122 on Friday. That jumped again to 180 as of Thursday.
Ehresmann last week said the Beltrami case increase is tied to spread from athletic events and other public gatherings.
U of M plans to test students for COVID-19 on its five campuses
The University of Minnesota rolled out a COVID-19 testing plan for students for the fall semester across five campuses.
The plan calls for testing of people with COVID-19-related symptoms and close contacts who had exposure to a confirmed case. The testing also will cover asymptomatic individuals linked to an ongoing Minnesota Department of Health investigation and asymptomatic people who need specific medical care.
The head of the school's Health Emergency Response office, Jill DeBoer, said this is part of a multilayered approach to COVID-19.
"One of our important layers — and I feel that it's one of the most important layers — is to make sure that people at increased risk for complications from a COVID infection are supported to make individual decision about in-person work and in-person school," DeBoer said.
Among the other plans, the university will care and support students who live in campus residence halls who need to quarantine or isolate.
Earlier this week, the U of M announced that a majority of its classes this fall would likely be fully online due to the pandemic. More than 6,200 classes are listed as online or remote, but these numbers are not final, a spokesperson for the university said. Students are free to adjust their classes to take them in the format that works best for them.
— Peter Cox | MPR News