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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: As state plans for school year, cases keep climbing

Jul 31, 2020 05:28AM ● By Editor
Des Moines Public Schools custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School. On Thursday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz rolled out a plan for reopening schools this fall that considers the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in different parts of the state.  Photo: Charlie Neibergall | AP file

From Minnesota Public Radio News - July 31, 2020

Minnesota’s COVID-19 cases continued trending upward Thursday as state leaders announced what they’re calling a 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.

Statewide, the closely watched metrics of hospitalizations and ICU cases dipped slightly from Wednesday. Still, officials are increasingly concerned about the overall direction of those numbers as new case counts rise.

The state also passed a milestone Thursday, reporting more than 1 million tests for the disease completed on 820,817 Minnesotans since the pandemic began.

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics

  • 53,692 cases confirmed (745 new) via 1,007,882 tests

  • 1,594 deaths (five new)

  • 5,112 cases requiring hospitalization

  • 298 people remain hospitalized; 141 in intensive care

  • 46,965 patients no longer requiring isolation

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Mask or no mask: ‘Contributing to solution — or to the crisis’

The newest numbers came ahead of Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement Thursday on his decision about how to handle public school this fall, given the ongoing pandemic. 

All this week, public health leaders 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. 

While hospitalizations still remain far lower now than at the late-May peak, officials have been bracing Minnesotans in recent days to expect a surge following the climb in new confirmed cases. 

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

“As we have feared, we are seeing our hospitalizations begin to increase, and I don’t think it’s just a blip,” Ehresmann said.

She also noted 83 new cases in long-term care facilities, a jump from the prior day — but most of the new infections were found in health care workers at those facilities, not residents. That’s especially worrisome because it indicates people are bringing in the disease and exposing vulnerable people.

Cases growing across age brackets, up north

State health officials continue to worry about the recent spike 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. 

Share of new COVID-19 cases by age

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.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

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.

The six Minnesota counties with the fastest-growing COVID-19 case numbers over the last few days are in the northern and central parts of the state:

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases

Developments from around the state

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

Top headlines

Minnesota’s rules for going back to school: State officials announced their long-awaited guidelines for how public and charter schools should plan to reopen for fall instruction in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. What will that mean for your family, your work or your community? Here’s what you need to know.

As schools look ahead to fall, one Rochester elementary offers a glimpse of the future: Now that schools have guidance on reopening from the state, one Rochester, Minn., elementary is already in session, providing a glimpse of what the classroom could look like for many in September.

Walz's schools plan stresses in-classroom teaching, flexibility to shift: “It’s gonna be a first day of school unlike any we’ve seen,” Walz said Thursday as he unveiled what he described as a localized, data-driven — but “not perfect” — plan for the fall.

Mpls. limits bar service as people crowd too close together in some establishments: With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey is imposing new restrictions on bars. The emergency order takes effect Saturday evening. It does not close the establishments entirely, but they’ll be table service only. Patrons will no longer be able to sit at the counter.

To read the original stories and see more COVID-19 reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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