July 7 update on COVID-19 in MN: Death count continues to ebb

Person wearing face mask take a picture with a phone.
Ninet Alarcon take a picture of her 18-year-old son Arturo Chavarria on May 14 at Tartan High School in Oakdale, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Updated: 4:55 p.m.

The state Health Department on Tuesday reported three more Minnesota deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,477 but continuing a two-week trend of days with deaths mostly in single digits.

Intensive care cases (121) remained relatively flat at late-April levels even as overall current hospitalizations (267) rose from Monday. Hospitalizations that do not require intensive care have trended up the past two days.

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

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the largest age group of confirmed cases — more than 8,400 since the pandemic began. The median age for cases has been dipping and is now just under 39 years old.

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

The newest counts come a day after Rochester and Mankato became the latest Minnesota cities to require mask-wearing in public indoor spaces. Rochester’s order takes effect on Wednesday; Mankato’s on Friday.

Minneapolis, St. Paul and Edina have also mandated mask-wearing in the cities’ public spaces.

As for a statewide mask requirement, medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department said they are backing the measure and Gov. Tim Walz last week said he is also concerned enough about a potential outbreak that he’s considering a statewide mask order.

As state opens, virus surfaces in younger people

Young adults heading back into public indoor spaces have become a particular concern for state officials who continue to implore people to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautions when venturing outside home.

Health investigators last week probed new clusters of Minnesota cases focused around bars in Mankato and Minneapolis.

While young people with COVID-19 may not feel its worst effects, “this is an infectious disease, and they can spread it to people who may not do as well,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state epidemiologist, told reporters Monday.

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

Of the 39,133 confirmed since the pandemic began, about 88 percent of people 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, nearly all had underlying health problems.

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 960 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 1,672 confirmed cases Tuesday with six deaths. About 1 in 13 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 Tuesday, confirmed cases were at 2,414 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 578 people have now tested positive in the county. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Lyon County (316 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall. Cases the past few weeks have also grown in Cottonwood County (136 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, but the counts there have since stabilized.

In Murray and Pipestone counties, however, cases are beginning to rise noticeably.

Developments from around the state

Winona mayor orders mask-wearing in public

The city of Winona will implement a 30-day face-mask order starting this Friday.

The mayor's order requires people to wear masks inside public places or where social distancing is difficult.

"With Rochester's decision to move ahead with their order, we decided we would join in and have more of a regional approach to wearing face masks, face coverings,” said Steve Sarvi, Winona’s city manager. “We would certainly encourage other communities in our region, especially Onalaska and La Crosse to join in on our effort as well.”

The city and Winona County have seen a bump in COVID-19 cases over recent days. Winona County has 129 cases as of Tuesday.

Neighboring La Crosse County has seen a large spike in cases over the last few weeks. The Wisconsin county has 519 confirmed cases.

— Peter Cox | MPR News

Masks mandated inside state court facilities

Face coverings will be required for entry into a state court building beginning Monday.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea issued the mandate Tuesday that applies to everyone from attorneys to witnesses to judges. The face masks can be removed in a courtroom only with permission of a judge and if other precautions can be taken.

Courts around the state are gradually resuming in-person trials and other proceedings in criminal cases.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Child care operations can tap federal aid

Minnesota child care facilities will be able to access new grants to help them stay afloat and operate safely as the coronavirus pandemic persists.

Gov. Tim Walz went to a St. Paul care center to draw attention to the $56.6 million in aid Tuesday that will be allotted using federal money.

Child care providers can qualify for three monthly awards. The amount they get will be based on a formula.“What these grants are meant to do is offset the added costs of the protections in these child care centers,” Walz said.

“Protections for the children, protections for the workers, the teachers and protections for our general society so we’re not using the little ones as spreaders.”

More than 6,600 home-based day cares and nearly 1,200 centers are eligible for grants. The Walz administration says 65,000 slots could be preserved.

Family providers can obtain up to $1,200 per month and licensed centers up to $8,500. They must have be a care center operating in good standing, have been open as of June 15 and can show revenue losses or increased costs due to COVID-19.

The money could offset costs of supplies, sanitizing and staff sick leave that are needed to prevent virus spread in child care centers.

A vibrant child care system is deemed essential to the state’s economic recovery. Parents could find it difficult to return to work full-time if they can’t find adequate care for young children.

Cisa Keller, senior vice president for Think Small, a group that focuses on early childhood education, said providers have had to navigate enrollment fluctuation and other challenges amid the pandemic.

“There’s also been efforts in trying to make sure that essential elements like gloves and masks and hand sanitizer are available to every provider across the state,” Keller said. “Those were really difficult things for child care providers to find. And so we continue to try to figure out how to make the biggest impact for child care providers.”

— Brian Bakst | 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.

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