Number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota increases to 35, including first cases of community transmission

Samples are tested for COVID-19.
Samples are tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday at the Minnesota Department of Health.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Health

Updated: 2:20 p.m.

Minnesota officials announced Sunday that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has grown to 35 — including the first three cases of community transmission.

Gov. Tim Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm announced the new total at a news conference on Sunday morning, as Walz announced a temporary closure of K-12 public schools in the state. The new total is out of about 1,422 patients tested, up from 868 on Saturday.

State health officials announced later Sunday that three of those cases have been determined to be community transmission — one each in Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota counties.

Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health, said that all previous cases had a travel history or direct exposure to another confirmed case. But those three new cases had no travel history or known exposure. She said that means there is transmission of the virus in the community, though officials have not identified any clusters of illness.

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Ehresmann issued new recommendations, in the wake of Sunday’s news.

“People who are 70 and older, or people of any age who have underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, should stay home and avoid gatherings or other situations of potential exposures, including travel,” she said.

Officials also said a case reported Saturday does have a connection with a school, and authorities are reaching out to school officials to address the case.

The total number of cases is up from 14 on Friday and 21 on Saturday. Ehresmann said officials know the number of COVID-19 cases in the state is higher than is being reported, given the limited number of tests conducted.

Cases have now been confirmed in Washington and Waseca counties, health officials reported. Other counties with confirmed cases include Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Stearns and Wright.

"While most have an identified source of exposure, with the limitations that we've discussed on testing capacity nationwide, there's just much we don't know about the potential degree of community transmission in Minnesota," Malcolm said at the morning news conference. “How effectively we can slow down and spread out the growth of this disease in our communities is the key."

Malcolm said most of the cases have not required hospitalization, although she added that one infected person remains critically ill. A second person known to have required hospitalization has been discharged, she said.

Meanwhile, Canadian health officials reported Saturday that a resident of Fort Frances, Ontario — just across the border from International Falls, Minn. — has tested positive for COVID-19.

That person had recently returned from travel overseas.

“The individual was seen, assessed and tested in Winnipeg," Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health for Northwestern Health Unit, said in a news release. “This person is now recovering back at home in Fort Frances and is in self-isolation."

The health agency said "the limited number of persons who have come in close contact with the person are in self-quarantine.”