July 28 update on COVID-19 in MN: Hospitalizations, ICU cases jump

Person reflected in a car sideview mirror as another person stands nearby.
A woman hands out a free face mask at a distribution event organized in Duluth, Minn., in May.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

Updated: 12 p.m.

Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers remain an uncomfortable mix of hopeful and worrisome trends. Daily deaths remain in single digits, and the growth in new cases seems to be moderating after a steep, monthlong climb. But hospitalizations and ICU cases are on the upswing.

The Health Department on Tuesday confirmed 480 new cases and reported four more deaths from the disease, continuing a six-week path of daily deaths in single digits.

Total current hospitalizations, however, rose by 37 from Monday, one of the largest one-day increases since the pandemic began. That number now stands at 294, a level not seen in a month. The number of hospitalized people needing intensive care (138) also jumped.

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Current hospitalizations and ICU cases are two metrics closely watched by public health leaders as they try to manage the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm the care system.

While hospitalizations still remain far lower now than at the late-May peak, officials have been bracing Minnesotans in recent days to expect a surge following the climb in new confirmed cases. That appears to be happening.

Minnesota ICU beds used for COVID-19 patients

Of the 52,281 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, about 88 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Among the 1,580 who’ve died, about 77 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities, nearly all had underlying health problems.

‘Vulnerable state’

The newest numbers come a day after state officials ratcheted up concerns that Minnesota was back on the wrong path just days before Gov. Tim Walz is set to announce his plan for the upcoming school year.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Officials have imploring Minnesotans to keep social distancing and wear masks in indoor public spaces so the state doesn’t suffer the problems seen now in Florida, Texas and other states struggling to control outbreaks.

"We're not asking Minnesotans to mask up for the Health Department,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters. “We're asking them to mask up for their own health.”

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

Compliance with the Minnesota’s statewide mask order is critical, she added: “We do feel like we’re in sort of a vulnerable state. But we feel like if Minnesotans can understand the importance of complying with the guidance that is out there and the current executive orders, we can impact these rates within a few weeks.”

Malcolm indicated officials were increasingly concerned about the rise in community spread of the disease.

Added Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director: “There could be a time when we do need to dial back if the things that we’re seeing continue to go in an unfavorable manner.”

While Minnesota’s mask mandate took effect Saturday, Ehresmann said it would be several weeks before officials could assess its impact.

Walz schools announcement Thursday

The governor is expected to announce a plan Thursday on bringing kids back into school buildings. The state Education Department has told school leaders to pretty much prepare for anything, including some combination of in-school and online instruction.

“Nobody wants kids in school more than me,” and state officials have been working for months on how to do that safely, Walz, a former high school teacher, said recently.

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

“We’re doing everything possible to get those kids back in those classrooms … to keep them there but also have some nimbleness” to move back to an online or hybrid model if cases start to climb, he said, adding: “This is gonna be a challenge.”

The DFL governor has suggested in recent days that there won’t be a uniform order that will determine whether school buildings reopen. On KFGO radio Friday, Walz reinforced that local decisions are important and it'll be up to school leaders to implement safety guidelines.

"It won't necessarily look the same everywhere,” he said earlier this week, “but the outcomes need to be the same — kids and staff safe in that learning environment.”

On Monday, though, Malcolm told reporters that the case jumps the past few weeks have made the analysis on schools even more challenging.

Cases growing across age brackets, up north

State health officials continue to worry about the recent spike of coronavirus cases in younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable populations.

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic, with more than 12,000. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.

Share of new COVID-19 cases by age

Health investigators are starting to see more cases in 30- and 40-somethings as more people get together for family gatherings and summer fun without social distancing, Ehresmann said earlier in the week.

It’s not the same as the situation the past few weeks where people in their 20s meeting in bars drove the increases. Now, analysts are seeing an evolution in the “larger, gradual increase in social activities,” she added.

On Friday, Ehresmann reiterated the point, urging people to take responsibility for wearing masks, social distancing and otherwise working to help stem the spread.

“Consider all the roles you play” in all daily interactions, she cautioned, noting that people who might not worry about themselves should worry about infecting vulnerable family members and coworkers.

Regionally, newly reported cases have been driven recently by the Twin Cities and its suburbs.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

New cases have also been rising in northern Minnesota.

Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past week and a half, from 53 to 122 on Friday. That jumped again to 157 as of Monday and Tuesday.

Ehresmann last week said the Beltrami case increase is tied to spread from athletic events and other public gatherings.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases

Developments from around the state

Free COVID-19 testing available this week on the Iron Range

An uptick in coronavirus cases on Minnesota's Iron Range has prompted a free drive-thru testing event this week.

State and county officials are partnering for the testing at the St. Louis County Fairgrounds in Chisholm, Minn.

It runs from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday. No insurance or identification is required. People are encouraged to preregister via the St. Louis County website while walk-ins are allowed.

— MPR News staff

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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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