July 1 update on COVID-19 in MN: Inflammatory condition affecting kids surfaces

A person wearing personal protective equipment stands at a car window
Nurse Amanda Hitchings uses a swab to take a sample for COVID-19 testing at the curbside collection facility Wednesday, May 6, at St. Cloud Hospital. Deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 in Minnesota continue to show hopeful, downward trends.
MBR/Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times

Updated: 5:46 p.m.

Thirteen Minnesota children have been found to have a worrisome inflammatory condition believed to be related to COVID-19, state officials said Wednesday.

Multi-system inflammatory syndrome was confirmed in the children, who developed symptoms between mid-May and mid-June; their average age was 5, and most had no prior medical problems, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist, told reporters.

While the syndrome has proven deadly in New York, Lynfield said the Minnesota children have all survived, although eight required intensive care. Eleven of the 13 cases showed evidence of COVID-19 while the other two children had been exposed to the disease, she added.

Lynfield also broadly cautioned Minnesotans to brace for an ongoing coexistence with COVID-19.

Even when Minnesota gets to a “herd immunity” with COVID-19, research shows that immunity is not going to be as long-lasting as, say, measles.

Immunity “may last for a period of months to a couple of years,” she said. “We will have to learn more about this. It does mean that this virus is going to be with us for awhile. I know everybody is sick and tired of preventive measures and want to get back to normal, but it’s going to be awhile.

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Death rate, hospitalizations continue to ebb

The latest news on the disease from state officials came hours after the Health Department reported statistics showing continued hopeful trends in deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 in Minnesota.

The agency on Wednesday reported four more deaths from the disease, putting the toll at 1,445 since the pandemic began. However, the average daily rate of deaths reported the past 10 days remains in single digits.

The counts of people currently hospitalized (260) and needing intensive care (125) — 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. The daily ICU count is the lowest its been since late April.

Of the 36,716 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota during the pandemic, 87 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Among those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living facilities, and nearly all had underlying health problems.

Fears of the Fourth

The newest counts come as worry about new outbreaks if people ease up on safety measures over the holiday.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and others are imploring groups gathering over the Fourth of July to meet outdoors instead of inside and to wear masks and social distance even when outside.

The median age of confirmed cases in Minnesota has been dipping and is now just under 39 years old, Malcolm noted Wednesday as she cautioned young adults to not let their guard down.

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

“Remember that you’re not invincible and neither are your loved ones,” she said. “Even if you may be less statistically likely to get sick … you do risk spreading it to people who are more vulnerable.”

Gov. Tim Walz is concerned enough about potential outbreaks that he said earlier this week he’s considering a statewide mask mandate.

Malcolm on Wednesday reiterated that the governor is “very seriously considering” a mask requirement.

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 928 confirmed cases as of Wednesday.

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.

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

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,655 confirmed cases Wednesday. 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 Wednesday, confirmed cases were at 2,287 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 Wednesday, the Health Department reported 565 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Tuesday. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Cottonwood County (134 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County (300 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall.

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.

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

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.

“These are not just suggestions,” Malcolm said of the rules in bars and public spaces.

Developments from around the state

HealthPartners permanently closing several clinics

HealthPartners is making changes to a number of clinics and facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, including behavioral health care and substance use.

Six clinics that were shut down during the crisis will not reopen. Clinicians will see patients at other facilities. And the behavioral health clinic in Maplewood, an inpatient substance use program at Regions Hospital, and a clinic in Sartell will also close permanently.

For now, patients will continue to get care through telehealth and telephone. When in-person visits start up again, patients will see their providers at other sites.

— Alisa Roth | MPR News

Children’s Theatre announces steep budget, staffing cuts

The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis is the latest Minnesota arts organization to make significant budget and staffing cuts amid the pandemic.

The administration of the company announced it's cutting its annual budget for the 2020-21 season by 50 percent. It's eliminating 15 full-time positions, furloughing 27 full-time positions and instituting a two-week furlough for the remaining 28 staff members. Nearly all part-time positions are on furlough. Managing director Kimberly Motes and artistic director Peter C. Brosius are taking a 24 percent reduction in compensation.

“It is devastating and heartbreaking that we have to reduce our staff due to the loss of live programming on our stages and in classrooms as well as the loss of revenue as a result of the pandemic,” Motes said in a statement Wednesday. “As we have tried for months to figure out what is possible next season, we have confronted the brutal reality of this virus and its impact on young people and families.”

The company's next show is scheduled for March. The announcement comes on the heels of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Guthrie Theater all making similar budget and staff cuts.

— Marianne Combs | MPR News

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 has 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 citywide 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

Top headlines

Duluth to consider requiring masks indoors: Duluth considers joining Minneapolis and St. Paul in requiring people to wear masks in public places. Several other cities are considering similar measures, even as Gov. Tim Walz weighs a statewide mask mandate.

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.

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.