June 29 update on COVID-19 in MN: State reaches 'moonshot' 20K daily test capacity goal

A scientist works in a lab.
A scientist is pictured working at Oxford Vaccine Group's laboratory facility at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, west of London earlier this month.
Steve Parsons | Pool | AFP via Getty Images

Updated: 3:43 p.m.

Positive cases of COVID-19 continue to increase in Minnesota, according to numbers released Monday, though the number of patients hospitalized and in intensive care in the state have declined.

Ten more people have died of complications from the coronavirus — bringing the state’s total deaths to 1,435. Minnesota has also seen an increase of 315 new positive cases. Now, 35,861 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state. The number of patients still hospitalized in Minnesota decreased by 10 to 278, and a total of 140 patients are in intensive care.

Minnesota is now at its lowest level of hospitalization utilization since May 1.

Still, the state continues to see a "peak and valley" pattern in terms of new positive cases. State health officials said that the number of positive tests reported today is the result of transmission that happened two to three weeks ago — and they warned Minnesota to be prepared for the possibility that that number might rise.

The state’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has trended higher in recent days, with young adults being a major driver — people in their 20s now make up the largest age group of cases.

COVID-19’s resurgence in Minnesota comes as many Sun Belt states have seen skyrocketing case counts and hospitalizations. However, the percentage of tests that come back positive fell Sunday in Minnesota — and has been largely flat over the past week. Hospitalization numbers also fell over the weekend, after a pause in the last week.

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

Walz: State meeting diagnostic testing capacity goals

In a news conference Monday, Gov. Tim Walz announced that Minnesota now has the capacity to test 20,000 Minnesotans for COVID-19 in a single day.

The announcement marks a milestone in the state’s “moonshot” fight against the coronavirus. In April, Walz set a goal of ramping up testing capacity to 20,000 diagnostic tests and 15,000 serology — or antibody — tests daily. The goal, however, hasn’t resulted yet in that many tests-per-day being done. The highest daily total has been about 17,000.

Walz said the development puts the state in position to understand how prevalent the virus is in Minnesota — which will be the only way to control the virus until a vaccine is available.

The ability to do 20,000 tests daily "puts us in a position that many other states don't have," said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Dr. William Morice of Mayo Clinic Laboratories said the state’s partnership with the clinic and the University of Minnesota also relieves bottlenecks in the testing chain.

“Any health care system that needs to test people in their geography or in their reach, they can do that with confidence that if they get a surge in demand that the university and Mayo Clinic will be there to help them do that,” Morice said.

Minnesota has hit a plateau in its coronavirus transmission, officials said Monday. The state’s positivity rate — the percent of all tests that come back positive — is at 4.18 percent, Walz said.

A statewide mask mandate ‘on the table’

During his Monday briefing, Walz said he’s considering requiring people to wear masks in public to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Walz said that a mandate is “on the table,” adding that it would assist businesses that are struggling to enforce mask rules on their own, in addition to public health benefits.

“And I’m making the argument is this: If you are for the economy opening up and for the state to take away some of the limitations on your businesses, the surest way to do that is to wear a mask,” the governor said.

The Minnesota Medical Association, which represents the state's doctors, has urged that masks be mandatory statewide. Some Minnesota cities, including cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, have adopted their own requirements.

Walz gave no indication of when he’d arrive at a decision. He acknowledged that use of face coverings has become a political flashpoint.

Young adult and bar-driven clusters

New clusters of cases have been tied to people who went to bars in Mankato and Minneapolis, suggesting that some younger adults aren’t doing enough to prevent the virus’ spread as they move back into public spaces.

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.

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

Two Mankato bars — Rounders and The 507 — were the focal points of an outbreak, Ehresmann said.

On Monday, health commissioner Jan Malcolm said there are likely more than 200 positive cases in Mankato tied to the bar-hopping outbreak. All those sickened were in their 20s and had gone to bars the first weekend they were allowed to reopen. Officials were also following up on a cluster of cases at two Minneapolis bars — Cowboy Jack’s and Kollege Klub. Malcolm said Monday that health officials have traced at least 100 cases to the Minneapolis bar-hopping.

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.”

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.

Cluster at Faribault state prison

Another surge in the results comes from an outbreak at the state prison in Faribault, which has recorded 206 positive tests and two deaths among inmates since its first case was recorded on June 3. The Faribault prison had 1,718 inmates as of Saturday.

The latest death at the Faribault prison was Leroy Bergstrom, 71. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on June 10 and had been hospitalized in critical condition since June 16.

In response to the outbreak, Minnesota’s prisons have limited prisoners’ social interactions and distributed masks. Some prisoners have also been released to reduce crowding, with the state prison population falling from about 8,900 on March 1 to 7,962 on June 25.

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.

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.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region
New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Developments from around the state

Fargo mayor: Holiday will test efforts to curb COVID-19

The mayor of Fargo said Monday that while North Dakota's most populous city and the state's COVID-19 hotspot is making progress in controlling spread of the coronavirus, a litmus test awaits with the July 4th holiday.

Many residents in Cass County, where Fargo is located, spend the holiday congregating in the lakes country of northwestern Minnesota. Mayor Tim Mahoney said social distancing and other prevention practices could be a challenge.

“We are heading in the right direction, with the occasional hump here and there,” Mahoney said, referring to active cases in the county. “Everybody is a little nervous now as more and more people are getting out and about. We'll find some things out after the 4th.”

Health officials said Monday that Cass County reported 26 new COVID-19 cases, more than half of the positive tests statewide in the last day. The county has registered a total of 2,233 cases. There have been about 1,300 cases in the rest of the state combined.

The message from Mahoney, a doctor, is the same as most other leaders around the country: Wear a mask.

“I get a little flustered sometimes to be in public places and people are not wearing masks,” he said. “Just because you are asymptomatic doesn't mean you might not be spreading it.”

A total of 47 people tested positive statewide in the last day. The number of hospitalizations has remained steady in recent weeks and stood at 25 on Monday. No new deaths were reported, keeping the number of fatalities at 79.

— The Associated Press

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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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