June 26 update on COVID-19 in MN: Bar-driven outbreaks raise new worries

Person wearing mask holds sign that reads "free face masks"
Ivy Vainio, communications co-chair of the Duluth NAACP and executive committee member, holds up a sign advertising free face masks in May in Duluth.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

Updated 3:36 p.m.

New clusters of COVID-19 cases centered on bars in Mankato and Minneapolis have officials increasingly concerned that younger adults aren’t doing enough to prevent the virus’ spread as they move back into public spaces.

While recent overall trends in deaths and hospitalizations from the disease are encouraging, health leaders now worry that people are letting down their guard as they return to bars and restaurants, giving the disease a chance to rekindle.

Minnesota’s early sacrifices to limit COVID-19’s spread “will be undermined if we don’t get cooperation from all Minnesotans, especially younger Minnesotans, who are most active and social,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Friday.

“We desperately need younger Minnesotans to take it seriously,” she added.

Bar-driven clusters

More than 100 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among Minnesotans in their 20s in the Mankato area who said they went to bars on June 12 and 13 — the first weekend bars and restaurants were allowed to serve indoors.

Two Mankato bars — Rounders and The 507 — were the focal points of that young adult outbreak, Ehresmann said Friday. Officials were also following up on a cluster of 30 cases at two Minneapolis bars — Cowboy Jack’s and Kollege Klub.

Social media from those bars shows they were crowded, with no room for social distancing, and people who were standing and not masked, so not following the state guidance, Ehresmann said.

“It’s not that you can’t socialize. It’s not that you can’t have fun,” she said. “But you need to do in a manner that’s safe for you and the people around you.”

Friday’s Health Department data showed that Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the largest age group of confirmed cases in Minnesota — 7,045 people infected, with two deaths.

New Minnesota COVID-19 cases by age, adjusted for population

While those young people may be less likely to suffer complications from COVID-19, officials say the concern is that they may be unknowingly spreading the disease to grandparents or other potentially vulnerable populations.

The median age of confirmed cases in Minnesota has been dipping and is now just under 40 years old.

Ehresmann on Friday noted that some of the people who tested positive in Mankato work in child care, pointing out that they have a high likelihood of inadvertently spreading the disease to children and families.

A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date.

Death rates slowing

Concerns about the behavior of young adults come as the death rate from the disease continues to slow.

The Health Department reported 1,411 people have died from the disease, up five from Thursday. Friday marked the first time since mid-April that the state reported six consecutive days of deaths in the single digits.

Another hopeful trend: The counts of people currently hospitalized (335) and needing intensive care (157) — two closely watched metrics as officials try to manage the spread of the disease — continue to flatten, with an overall downward trend the past few weeks.

Meatpacking hot spots 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 868 confirmed cases as of Friday.

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.

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 the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,643 confirmed cases Friday. About 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

A graph showing the percentage of cases tested and their current status.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since 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 Friday, confirmed cases were at 2,156 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus.

As of Friday, the Health Department reported 564 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Thursday. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Cottonwood County (130 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County (289 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall.

Developments from around the state

MN Medical Association, health care groups urge policymakers for mandatory masking

The Minnesota Medical Association and 20 other health care groups from around the state are urging public and private sector officials to require masks to stem the transmission of the coronavirus.

In a statement, the group says that a growing body of evidence shows that mask-wearing is helpful in preventing the virus from spreading.

The statement comes as states including Texas and Florida have seen a massive spike in cases weeks after relaxing social distancing rules, and as Minnesota has identified clusters of cases among bar-hoppers in Mankato and Minneapolis.

The cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis require masks in stores and other indoor spaces, while some other Minnesota cities including Duluth and Rochester do not.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Inmate dies at Faribault prison after testing positive for COVID-19

The Minnesota Department of Corrections on Thursday reported a 43-year-old inmate at the Faribault prison has died nearly three weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement, the department says Adrian Raymaar Keys died at a hospital Tuesday evening. Keys and an unspecified number of other men tested positive for COVID-19 on June 4.

The agency says Keys' health deteriorated over the weekend and he was hospitalized on Monday. If the Hennepin County Medical Examiner determines that his death was related to COVID-19 complications, it would be the first COVID-19-related death of a Minnesota inmate.

More than 200 Faribault inmates — or about 12 percent of the prison's population — have tested positive for the coronavirus in June. That's far more than in any other Minnesota prison.

The Corrections Department says four Faribault staff members also tested positive, but have since returned to work.

— Matt Sepic | MPR News

Twins report ‘a few’ recent positive cases

The Minnesota Twins have become the latest Major League Baseball team to report cases of coronavirus within its organization.

President of baseball operations Derek Falvey said in a conference call Thursday that “a few" players had tested positive and that each player was “doing well” in self-isolation at home. None of the positive tests came from players currently in Minnesota or in Fort Myers, Fla., where the team’s spring training headquarters are.

While he didn't identify them or specify the number, Falvey said that all were members of the 60-man group that is scheduled to begin workouts next week ahead of a planned regular season. Before they can join the team in Minneapolis, each player must return two negative coronavirus tests. Major league camps are set to reopen next week, mostly at home stadiums.

Prior to the recent positive tests, Falvey said, the Twins had no known cases among players or staff.

— MPR News staff and The Associated Press

Mayo Clinic to end pay cuts, recall workers

Mayo Clinic says it is reversing pay cuts and ending worker furloughs initially put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The clinic says outpatient visits, medical procedures and surgeries are picking up, so it will be restoring pay levels for thousands of employees as of Wednesday and bringing back idled workers by the end of August, ahead of their scheduled return.

The pay cuts were announced in April as Mayo was projecting a $900 million loss through the end of 2020 after Gov. Tim Walz announced a ban on nonessential medical procedures to preserve masks and other medical supplies for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases.

Physicians and senior administrators were given a 10 percent salary cut, with a 7 percent cut for other salaried employees. Senior executives took a 20 percent pay cut, and that reduction is not being rolled back.

Mayo says patient volumes had returned to as much as 90 percent of normal by mid-June.

— Tim Nelson | 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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