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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Virus 'all over the state'

Sep 16, 2020 06:07AM ● By Editor
A nurse takes a swab from a patient Sept. 2 at the mass testing COVID-19 clinic at Minnesota State University, Mankato's Myers Field House in Mankato, Minn. 
Photo: Pat Christman | Mankato Free Press file

From Minnesota Public Radio News - September 16, 2020

Minnesota’s daily COVID-19 numbers have recently shown moderate case growth, relatively stable hospitalizations and mostly single-digit deaths. Officials, though, continue to warn that the level of ongoing community spread of the virus means more problems ahead. 

Public health authorities have warned community spread, where the origin is not precisely known, is growing in Minnesota, driven by informal get-togethers, weddings, college student meetups and other social events where people aren’t wearing masks, socially distancing or taking other precautions.

“We just really continue to be concerned about the degree of virus that’s prevalent all over the state and the ease with which what’s been a pretty controlled situation could escalate further,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday.

“We’re really walking on the edge of the cliff and we’re grateful that we haven’t fallen off, but we have not moved away from the edge of the cliff,” added Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, tapping an analogy she and Malcolm have used before. 

“The potential for going over the edge is still there,” she said.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 1,927 deaths

  • 85,351 positive cases, 78,953 off isolation

  • 238 still hospitalized, 131 in ICU 

  • 1,733,292 tests, 1,247,867 people tested

New cases had been growing significantly for weeks and topped more than 6,000 two weeks ago, raising concerns that new cases surfacing now will create more severe health problems later. 

Active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Officials, however, believe those numbers will grow again. Like their colleagues around the country, health authorities here are watching in the week ahead for any signs of a rise in infections tied to Labor Day weekend gatherings. 

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

This week, Health Department employees plan to go door-to-door in randomly selected neighborhoods in the Twin Cities and southeastern Minnesota as part of a statewide study to find out where COVID-19 is more prevalent. 

They’ll ask questions about where people spend time, whether anyone in the house has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and what information they'd like about the virus. They'll also offer free nasal swabs and serology tests. 

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

Health authorities are also asking parents to keep children at home when they’re sick, knowing how difficult that can be for many families, especially single-parent households. They're also asking employers to be understanding.

College campus worries rise

People in their 20s make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — topping 20,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 11,500 infections among people ages 20-24. 

The numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about young adults as spreaders of the virus.

While less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations and could also hamper attempts to reopen campuses completely to in-person teaching. 

Share of new COVID-19 cases by age

They’ve been driving the recent outbreaks, although the number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, topping 7,700 total cases for children 15 to 19 years old since the pandemic began. 

On Sunday, just across the border from Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse responded to rising cases by moving all in-person classes online, closing dining halls and most campus buildings, and mandating face coverings at all times on campus, indoors or outdoors. 

Classes were suspended Monday and Tuesday before resuming online on Wednesday.

Minnesota ICU beds used for COVID-19 patients

The move at UW-La Crosse followed a decision last week at nearby Winona State University in Minnesota to implement an immediate 14-day campus quarantine that will limit all nonessential activities on campus to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Winona State, Concordia College in Moorhead and Minnesota State University Mankato have each seen more than 100 cases tied to the schools and students in the last two weeks, Ehresmann said Monday. 

Mankato is starting to see conditions improve, while it’s too early to evaluate moves made by Winona and Concordia to check the spread, she added.

Regionally, southern and central Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs have driven much of the increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Hot spots have included southwestern Minnesota, where 75 cases have been traced to a late-August wedding in Lyon County that officials describe now as the state’s largest single social spreader event.

On Monday, Minnesota officials also confirmed an outbreak of 122 cases at the federal women’s prison in Waseca, which they said began when federal authorities transferred people into the facility from outside the state who had COVID-19. 

‘Third or fourth inning’ of the pandemic?

While the decline in the number of people hospitalized is welcome news, Minnesota officials continue to implore people to stay vigilant against the spread of the disease.

They expect cases to climb following the Labor Day holiday and have warned that Minnesota could face a one-two punch this fall and winter from COVID-19 and the typical flu season.

State health officials on Monday morning made it clear that Minnesota remains in the early stages of the pandemic. In baseball terms, they see Minnesota’s as less than half way through the game.

"We’re in the third or fourth inning" of COVID-19, Malcolm told MPR News on Monday morning.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

She and Ehresmann acknowledged that public perceptions of the pandemic have shifted since the spring with people losing patience with the curbs on daily life and the calls for vigilance.

Malcolm signaled it was unlikely the state would go back to the level of restrictions seen in March when public support for “dramatic actions” was widespread. The public now, she said, wants the state to take “more measured and precise actions.”

She added, though, that Gov. Tim Walz will “do what he feels is necessary to keep a handle on this pandemic.”

Developments around the state

Two GOP state lawmakers call on Walz to ease up on businesses 

Two Republican state lawmakers are criticizing DFL Gov. Tim Walz over his administration’s enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions.

Reps. Dave Baker, of Willmar, and Tony Jurgens, of Cottage Grove, say state inspectors are imposing stiff fines on restaurants and other hospitality businesses. They highlighted a Hastings restaurant Tuesday that is currently contesting $7,600 in fines, which were largely due to an employee removing a face mask while talking to customers. 

The Busted Nut’s owner, Tatia Nelson said it was an isolated incident, and she believes the fine is excessive.

“I’m just trying to do my best as a business, and I’m trying to do everything right,” she said.

Jurgens said the stepped-up enforcement appears to be a change in the administration’s approach.

“When many of these executive orders were issued, the governor indicated that the purpose was to educate, not punish,” Jurgens said. “I believe I even remember somebody saying to hand out masks, not fines. But unfortunately, that’s not the reality.”

Baker, a former restaurant owner, called on the governor to ease up on enforcement. He also urged Walz to allow more indoor seating in restaurants before colder weather hits.

— Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Wisconsin sees surge of cases

COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin have risen by two-thirds in the past two weeks, to the state’s highest-recorded levels.

On Sunday, Wisconsin reported more than 1,550 new confirmed cases, a new record for the state. It’s also more cases than Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota or South Dakota have ever reported in a single day. Nor is it an outlier — Wisconsin’s number of new cases has been rising for two weeks, while its number of new tests has remained flat.

Adjusted for population, Wisconsin is averaging more than 200 new cases per million residents, twice as high as Minnesota. Though a record for Wisconsin, Iowa and both Dakotas saw significantly higher rates in late August. Since late August, Iowa and South Dakota have seen their cases fall, while North Dakota continues to report high numbers of new cases per capita.

— David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Top headlines

Doctor’s COVID-19 videos offer calm in the pandemic storm:A rural Minnesota doctor gained an online following with his self-made videos sharing facts and advice about the coronavirus. Then, he shared news of his own diagnosis.

Zach! Zak! Zack! U's newest student club pledges humor, hope during pandemic: COVID-19 has made it tough to build community on college campuses. A University of Minnesota student started a new group to help with that. The only qualification to join? Your name must be Zach (alternative spellings grudgingly accepted).

U of M students move in, and test the latest COVID-19 measures: In addition to pushing back move-in day, the university instituted a strict, four-step process for students who live in dorms on the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester campuses. First, they’ll spend at least 10 days living and learning almost exclusively inside the residence halls and are told not to visit other dorms, businesses or off-campus residences. For nearly a month, they’ll have a 9 p.m. curfew.

To read the original articles and see related COVID-19 reporting, follow this link to the MPR news website.

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