June 14 update on COVID-19 in MN: Pace of outbreak slows, but risk remains

A person wearing a personal protective equipment at a drive thru site
Elizabeth Santoro, a medic with the Minnesota Air National Guard 133rd Medical Group, administers a free COVID-19 test to Thomas Harmon of Robbinsdale, Minn., at the Minneapolis Armory on May 23.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP

Updated: 1:55 p.m.

The pace of Minnesota’s COVID-19 outbreak has slowed significantly in recent weeks — though thousands remain sick and there’s no guarantee the situation will continue to improve.

On Sunday, Minnesota reported 311 new cases and 15 new deaths from COVID-19; the net increase in cases from Saturday was 299, as the state received more information and updated previous days’ data.

Over the past week, the state has averaged less than 400 new cases per day — still a lot, but far less than the 700 daily cases the state was seeing in late May. And this decline in new cases has happened even as the state tests more people for the disease: an average of more than 10,000 per day, up from about 7,500 per day in late May.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota
New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

The deaths reported Sunday included 11 residents of long-term care facilities. Eight of the 15 deaths were in Ramsey County, with four in Hennepin County and one each in Blue Earth, Dakota and Stearns counties.

Meanwhile hospitals around Minnesota are reporting fewer COVID-19 patients, and fewer seriously ill COVID-19 cases who require intensive-care beds.

Sunday’s report from the Minnesota Department of Health showed 369 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota, down from 390 the previous day. It’s the lowest that number has been since May 1; it peaked at 606 on May 28.

The number of those current patients in ICUs dropped slightly to 186 in Sunday’s report.

“The hospitalization picture has stabilized and improved pretty significantly in recent weeks, which has been great to see,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday.

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota
Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

But health officials warned the situation could deteriorate if Minnesotans get complacent. 

Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, again implored people to continue wearing masks in public spaces and keep social distancing. People who feel flu-like symptoms should get tested and people who feel ill should stay home.

“The positive news is that many of our indicators are neutral or slightly positive,” Ehresmann said, adding that while it was cause for celebration, “we’re not out of the woods, yet.”

The big picture

Overall, more than 30,000 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 1,300 Minnesotans have died — many of them elderly residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

Most Minnesotans who have tested positive have now recovered, but more than 4 percent have died and about 1 percent remain in the hospital.

In response to the disease, state officials shut down much of the state starting in late March, closing down bars and restaurants, sporting arenas and salons. Other businesses that remained open closed their offices and had many of their employees work from home.

For the past month, Gov. Tim Walz has gradually lifted many of these restrictions. Restaurants and salons are now allowed to open — but only at reduced capacity

New COVID-19 tests in Minnesota
New COVID-19 tests in Minnesota
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

These continued restrictions have proved controversial, with many people backing them as necessary for public health, while others say the restrictions should be eased. This weekend, the Legislature took up the question but was unable to find consensus, with the Republican-controlled Senate voting to end Walz’s public health emergency powers, and the DFL-controlled House voting against ending them. 

Meatpacking hotspots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 650 confirmed cases as of Sunday.

That puts Mower County second to Nobles County in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases
The six Minnesota counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors, both of which say they’re partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.

At Hormel, officials said they anticipated that by early this week, they'd have 40 active cases among employees. They expect that an additional 39 people who've already tested positive will have recovered by then.

Quality Pork Producers has at least 90 employees with active cases, and 100 more who have recovered.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in Mower County but who work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

In southwestern Minnesota, Nobles County reported 1,620 confirmed cases as of Sunday. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. Roughly 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although the increases are coming at a much slower rate than earlier in the epidemic.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since partially reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May.

An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Sunday, confirmed cases were at 2,107 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.

On Friday, the Health Department reported 541 people have now tested positive in the county.

Developments from around the state

Early test results show a low positivity rate among Floyd protesters

Pop-up coronavirus testing sites around the Twin Cities have taken samples from more than 3,000 people who attended mass gatherings in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing.

State Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm says that the state has gotten about 1,300 test results back, and they show a 1.4 percent positivity rate.

Malcolm said people who don't have symptoms can get tested, and the tests are free.

"If you were involved in any of the mass gatherings — the protests, the vigils, the neighborhood cleanups, providing food, water, etc. — we really encourage you to get free testing at one of these community sites,” Malcolm said.

While that positivity rate is so far relatively low, health officials say it's too soon to tell if the protests will be the source of widespread community transmission.

Four sites were open on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and will be open those days in coming weeks as well.

  • The Holy Trinity Church on East Lake Street in Minneapolis

  • The Sabathani Community Center on East 38th Street in Minneapolis

  • The New Salem Baptist Church on Bryant Avenue North in Minneapolis

  • The Jimmy Lee Recreation Center on Lexington Parkway in St. Paul

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

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COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based off Minnesota Department of Health cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

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