Aug. 4 update on COVID-19 in MN: Hospitalizations, ICU cases reach 6-week high

A health-care worker takes the temperature of a visitor
Amid coronavirus concerns, a health-care worker takes the temperature of a visitor to Essentia Health in a skywalk bridge from the adjoining parking garage on April 10 in Duluth.
Alex Kormann | Star Tribune via AP

Updated: 4:25 p.m.

Minnesota’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to head the wrong way, with counts of people currently hospitalized and needing intensive care rising to levels not seen in six weeks.

The Health Department Tuesday reported 328 people still hospitalized with 159 of those needing an ICU bed.

Officials have been bracing Minnesotans to expect hospitalizations and ICU cases to grow in response to the case surge the past few weeks as Minnesota began allowing customers to return to indoor gathering spaces, including bars, stores and restaurants.

While current hospitalizations remain far lower than their late-May peak, they continue to climb even as the growth in new cases flattens.

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Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Minnesota on Tuesday reported 606 new confirmed cases of the disease and four more deaths.

Of the 57,162 confirmed cases of the disease since the pandemic began, about 88 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Among the 1,620 Minnesotans who’ve died, about 76 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Cases growing across age brackets, up north

Worries remain about the growth of COVID-19 among younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable people.

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

“Consider all the roles you play” in all daily interactions, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, cautioned last week. People who might not worry about themselves should worry about infecting vulnerable family members and coworkers, she added.

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic — more than 13,000. Over the past month, though, new cases have risen in just about every age group except 20-somethings.

The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.

Regionally, the Twin Cities and its suburbs have been driving the newly reported cases.

The seven-county Twin Cities metro area represents more than two-thirds of new COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and has accounted for a disproportionate share of the state’s cases since mid-May when southern Minnesota’s meatpacking hot spots were surging.

But the disease is present in all parts of the state, including the north, which had largely avoided the outbreak until recently.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Cases are now as prevalent in northern Minnesota as they are in central Minnesota for basically the first time this outbreak.

Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past two weeks, increasing to 200 as of Tuesday. Most of the counties seeing a jump in case growth relative to their population are in northern and central Minnesota.

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

Meatpacking operations had been hot spots for big outbreaks in southwest, west-central and central Minnesota earlier in the pandemic, but new cases have slowed considerably in recent weeks.

The case increases the past few week in Minnesota have caught the attention of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in a Monday interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association named Minnesota among a handful of states that should reconsider reimposing some restrictions given the trends.

While Minnesota’s daily new case increases in recent weeks have been high, they appear to have stabilized and that “gives us the sense we have a little bit more time to watch our trends,” Malcolm said Monday.

Worries over Sturgis

The newest numbers come a day after state health officials warned the upcoming Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota could be a potential petri dish for spreading the virus here and across the nation.

The nine-day event is expected to attract more than 250,000 riders and their friends from around the country to the Black Hills starting Friday, which is causing Minnesota health leaders to worry about the disease making its way back here.

“We are concerned with any large gathering, sustained contact of that nature,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday, calling the rally “sort of a recipe for something to happen.”

Asked if Minnesota might call for Sturgis riders coming back to the state to voluntarily quarantine, Malcolm said that while cases are expected to bubble up here in late August and early September, officials here haven’t yet discussed a quarantine request.

Riders who do go to Sturgis should limit their social activity when they return and “be very cautious” if their jobs or social interactions but them in contact with vulnerable people, added Ehresmann.

The length of the rally from Friday through Aug. 16, will mean prolonged exposure for many, and the long-distance travel by many riders means they may carry the virus home and touch off other outbreaks, Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told MPR News Monday.

Sturgis will also feature some high-risk factors, including a surge of possibly hundreds of thousands of people — many of them older — packing into a relatively small town, he added.

“Come mid-August to late August, early September,” Osterholm said, “Sturgis will have one hell of an imprint on this country.”

Developments from around the state

MN State Fair launches marketplace, competitions online

The Minnesota State Fair is adding virtual merchandise stands to the food parade it has planned in lieu of a real fair this year. The fair announced Tuesday that it is launching an online marketplace with more than 200 vendors.

The usual selection of gifts, gadgets, crafts, decor, tools and apparel are all listed on the fair’s website, with links to the websites of traditional fair vendors. They are planning discounts and sales through the end of 2020.

The fair also announced four online competitions, including cookie decorating, crop art, and photography by K-12 students. Quilting has a competition too, but the quilts must be no larger than 8 inches by 9 inches and mounted on a paint stir stick.

The fair is also holding its annual fine arts show on the fairgrounds, starting Sept. 7. But alas, there’s still no fair — it’s been canceled this year due to the coronavirus.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

High school football, volleyball pushed to spring

High school football and volleyball will move to spring seasons while other fall sports maintain modified schedules under plans approved Tuesday by the Minnesota State High School League.

Volleyball and football will be allowed to hold practices this fall with conditions.

The changes are designed to limit exposure of athletes, coaches and officials to the coronavirus. All sports will see limits on the number of competitions and how many teams can participate in any single event.

— MPR News Staff

Valleyfair to stay shut in 2020

Valleyfair will remain closed for the remainder of the year amid ongoing concerns around COVID-19.

“With the diminishing number of calendar days left in the 2020 operating season, as well as limited visibility from state and local officials as to when a park opening is possible, the decision has been made to remain closed,” the Shakopee, Minn., amusement park said in a statement Tuesday.

Park officials said they’ll continue to work with state authorities to ensure guests can return safely next season.

— MPR News Staff

Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America to reopen Monday

The Mall of America said the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park inside the mall will reopen next week after being closed nearly five months due to COVID-19.

Officials of the Bloomington, Minn., mall said the 7-acre theme park will reopen Monday with significant changes aimed at maintaining a safe, healthy and comfortable environment.

To meet state guidelines, Nickelodeon Universe will operate with a reduced capacity of 250 visitors at any time. Guests will be allowed through a single entry point. Only guests who have bought a ticket will have access to walk through the park. Tickets will be limited to two hours.

Guests 3 years and older will be required to wear face masks at all times, including for the duration of each attraction. Children 2 and under and people with special medical conditions are exempt. Guests may remove their face masks while eating or drinking.

Guests also must sanitize their hands before entering each attraction. Sanitizing stations have been added to the entrance and exit of each attraction.

— The Associated Press

Osterholm: Expect COVID-19 in junior, senior highs

Ahead of plans to bring at least some Minnesota students back into classrooms in a few weeks, disease experts say there will be COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.

Junior high and high school students will facilitate that spread, Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told MPR News Monday.

“We’re going to see it in high schools. This is why there’s a bifurcation in the recommendations about what to do to handle high school secondary students, versus younger students,” he said.

Off-campus gatherings continue to be a problem among college students, and older teens will have some of the same challenges, he added.

Osterholm saw some hopeful signs in the outbreak. Day care centers, he noted, have been able to keep operating with minimal disruption, and research is showing kids under 10 years old aren’t major factors in coronavirus transmission.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Groups urge Congress to include funding for telemental health in next COVID-19 aid

Leaders in the field of mental health and addiction services in Minnesota are calling on Congress to award $100 million to help meet the nation's growing need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill would provide grants to Native American tribes, qualified nonprofits and other providers who have been largely left out of past federal coronavirus response aid.

The money would help with telephone helplines and websites and telehealth services, which Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation president and CEO Mark Mishek says are working.

"The early data is continuous sobriety is equal to if not a little better than what we saw for in-person out-patient services, so, so far so good,” Mishek said. “Now, some people aren't going to thrive well in virtual services but it appears it is a very effective mode of treatment."

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and a Republican Senator from Indiana introduced the legislation in May, with hopes it will be part of whatever Congress passes to follow the expired CARES Act.

— Nina Moini | MPR News

Top headlines

Primary election amid pandemic sets stage for November: Minnesota voters will finalize November’s ballot in the Aug. 11 primary election. The first statewide election amid the pandemic will look different than voters are accustomed to, and election officials are preaching patience.

Michael Osterholm on where we are now with the COVID-19 pandemic: MPR News checked in with Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm about next steps for living amid a pandemic in the U.S. and what it would take to slow the current surge of cases.

Minnesota has lost a greater share of revenue than most states due to COVID-19: Minnesota's budget whiplash spun the conversation nearly overnight from which school investments to make and taxes to cut, to whose paycheck to shave and programs to eliminate. March arrived with a projected $1.5 billion surplus; a state estimate released Friday said the revenue shortfall would reach $4.7 billion for the next two years.

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.