June 30 update on COVID-19 in MN: 444 new cases, mask mandate 'on the table'

A person wearing a face mask.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks with University Avenue business owners earlier this month in St. Paul.
Euan Kerr | MPR News file

Updated: 9:42 p.m.

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota continued to climb Tuesday, with 444 new cases reported by the Health Department, bringing the total to 36,303 positive cases since the start of the pandemic. The state also recorded six more deaths, increasing the death toll to 1,441.

The number of patients requiring hospitalization and intensive care because of the novel coronavirus continues to decline, with eight fewer patients in the hospital, and four fewer patients in intensive care.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

A statewide mandate requiring all people to wear masks while in public is “on the table,” Gov. Tim Walz said Monday.

While he didn’t give an indication on when he’d decide, the governor said such a move would offer public health benefits while helping businesses that’re struggling to enforce their own mask rules.

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Walz’s argument: “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,” he said.

The governor’s remarks came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continued rising, with people in their 20s continuing to make up the largest number of cases.

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

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

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.

Keep your guard up this July Fourth, officials urge

State health officials are urging Minnesotans to remain vigilant with social distancing, mask-wearing and other buffers against COVID-19 over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Health commissioner Jan Malcolm said family gatherings and other outings could lead to a spike of coronavirus infections if people ease back on safety measures.

“We certainly have seen incidents of people gathering in larger groups without social distancing and without masking and this is a proven recipe for spread,” she said. “And we have seen that happen in our own community and we have certainly seen that happen in other states that are seeing these big increases now.”

Malcolm said groups gathering over the Fourth of July should look for ways to meet outdoors instead of inside, and reminded anyone feeling ill to opt out of celebrations and seek out a COVID-19 test.

State meeting diagnostic testing capacity goals

Also Monday, 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.

More cases likely from Mankato, Minneapolis bar-goers

Malcolm said Monday there are likely more than 200 positive cases in Mankato and at least 100 in Minneapolis tied to bar-hopping outbreaks, an increase from past estimates.

All those sickened were in their 20s and had gone to the Mankato bars Rounders and The 507, or Minneapolis bars Cowboy Jack’s and Kollege Klub.

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.

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.

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

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 921 confirmed cases as of Tuesday.

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 1,652 confirmed cases Tuesday. 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 Monday, confirmed cases were at 2,265 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 Tuesday, the Health Department reported 565 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 (133 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County (295 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Developments from around the state

U of M: 7 students test COVID-19 positive

The University of Minnesota said Tuesday that seven athletes from “multiple sports” have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Gopher Athletics Department conducted 170 COVID-19 tests during June, and seven athletes tested positive. The school said students who test positive are entered into a protocol and asked to self-isolate. Those students will have access to all necessary resources and food, and will be in daily communication with the university’s athletic medical staff.

Those students will have to undergo additional testing and screening before they can participate in team activities. A team physician also must clear the student.

The university said contact tracing was conducted, and any person who was potentially exposed was asked to quarantine to help prevent spread of the virus.

— The Associated Press

Masks now required at city-operated facilities in Rochester

The Rochester City Council approved a masking mandate for city-operated facilities.

The step comes during a heated debate in the home of Mayo Clinic over whether masks should be mandated inside local businesses and other facilities as well.

A city-wide mandate is up for discussion at the council's next meeting on July 6, but it's not clear there's support for the measure. Several council members have expressed concerns over how the mandate would be enforced.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

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 4 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 Fourth.”

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

Top headlines

Minnesota to spend $9M on COVID-19 ad push: From bus stop ads to television spots, Minnesota plans to launch an awareness campaign about ways the public can help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The effort will move ahead despite Republican opposition.

Map: Where are face masks required in Minnesota? More cities are joining Minneapolis and St. Paul in requiring face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Both cities require people to wear masks inside businesses and other indoor facilities.

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Pandemic forces Minnesota summer festivals to cancel — or go virtual: Summer festivals are a long, colorful tradition in Minnesota. But concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have forced organizers of most festivals to cancel this summer’s events — or find creative ways to adapt.

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.