Aug. 6 update on COVID-19 in MN: New cases jump; hospitalizations rise

A woman in PPE removes a disposable gown.
Nurse Lindsay Stewart demonstrates donning and doffing PPE inside of Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul in March.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated: 3:20 p.m.

New confirmed cases of COVID-19 are back on the march after several days of plateauing. The Health Department Thursday reported 867 new cases — one of the highest daily counts in the pandemic.

The number of people currently hospitalized (319) and the subset needing intensive care (153) also rose. It was the seventh straight day with more than 300 people still hospitalized, the first time that’s happened since late June.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Of the 58,640 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, about 88 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Seven more people died, bringing the total to 1,636 since the pandemic began. Among those who’ve died, about 76 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Cases bubble 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.

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic — nearly 14,000. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.

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

In the last few days, however, the number of people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 and younger than 20 was nearly equal to the number of newly confirmed cases among 20-somethings.

“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.

Regionally, the Twin Cities and its suburbs have been driving the counts of 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.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

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

Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past two weeks, increasing to 215 as of Thursday.

The state’s fastest-growing outbreaks relative to population continue to be in northern 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.

Get a flu shot

The newest numbers come a day after Minnesota’s health commissioner called on Minnesotans to get vaccinated for the fall flu season and warned the Sturgis, S.D., motorcycle rally that starts Friday will be a “ripe environment” for COVID-19 spread.

Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Wednesday called on people to make sure they and any children in their care get flu shots. She noted that vaccinations among kids had dropped during the COVID-19 outbreak, although the situation has improved recently.

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

“It’s going to be so critical for Minnesotans to get their flu shots this fall” so that the health care system isn’t overwhelmed by flu and “what we expect to be additional cases of COVID-19 this fall,” she added.

Officials have been increasingly concerned about a one-two punch of COVID-19 and the flu this fall. Moves starting in late March to shut down businesses, restaurants and retail establishments to fight COVID-19 spread also short-circuited the spring flu season.

While current hospitalizations remain far lower than their late-May peak, they’ve shown an upward swing the past few weeks even as the daily growth in new cases flattened.

Sturgis a ‘pretty ripe environment’ for spread

Malcolm and other state public health leaders have warned that 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, leading Minnesota health leaders to worry about the disease making its way back here.

Malcolm on Wednesday reiterated those concerns, saying she was disappointed South Dakota had OK’d the Sturgis rally this year given that the state is seeing a significant surge in cases and the rally would be attracting people from around the country, including places where COVID-19 cases are climbing.

The Sturgis rally, she said, will be a “pretty ripe environment for further spread.”

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.

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

Malcolm on Wednesday said those headed for Sturgis should watch for symptoms and perhaps even get tested for COVID-19 a week after coming home, even if they aren’t symptomatic.

Self-quarantining for 14 days, she added, would also be a “really prudent and really thoughtful thing to do.”

Recent developments from around the state

School recommendation map shifts with new COVID-19 numbers

Fresh data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health change guidelines for school reopening in 27 counties, were the school year to start now.

Rising COVID-19 caseloads mean schools in seven counties are recommended to use more distance learning than the original guidelines issued last week.

Recommendations for school reopening based on COVID-19 case counts

For example, Sherburne County last week reported 15.8 cases per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period, which meant the state recommended its schools have in-person education for grade schoolers and a mix of in-person and distance learning for secondary students.

An extra week of rising cases, however, brought Sherburne up to 23.3 cases per 10,000 residents over 14 days — which brings a recommendation of hybrid learning for all students.

The other six counties to see their reopening recommendations downgraded were Faribault, Martin, Norman, Red Lake and Rock counties.

In 20 counties, falling case counts mean a change in recommendation for the better.

Carver County, for example, fell from 20.8 cases per 10,000 residents over 14 days last week to 17.9 this week, moving it from hybrid learning for all students to in-person learning for elementary school.

These metrics, based on COVID-19 cases, form the starting point as districts and the Health Department negotiate specific learning models for each district.

The case figures fueling these recommendations are somewhat out of date, because of how the agency is calculating its numbers. The recommendations releases Thursday are based on case data from between July 12 and July 25, while next week will see updated data based on cases from July 19 to Aug. 1.

— David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Gas tax revenue skids as driving drops

COVID-19’s impact on a key source of Minnesota road construction funding is becoming more apparent. Gas tax revenues for the past five months were $50 million, or 14 percent, below a February estimate of what would come in over that time.

That matters because the tax revenues are dedicated to highway-related expenses, including paying off debt for construction. May saw the steepest drop-off, with revenue compared to projections falling off by about $21 million, or almost 30 percent.

If there’s a bright spot, it’s that June and July gas tax revenues weren’t down as severely as the preceding months.

Last month, the state came within $5 million of hitting the estimates from prior to the COVID-19 societal shakeup.Traffic volumes plummeted during the early days of the coronavirus response and the stay-at-home orders.

 MnDOT estimates that traffic has nearly rebounded to historical averages in recent weeks. Traffic volume in some parts of the state is now above the three-year baseline.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

SPCO cancels all its concerts this year

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra says it's canceling all of its concerts through the end of the year amid the ongoing pandemic.

The SPCO had already scaled back its upcoming season. but had hoped to resume concerts next month. In a message posted online Thursday, orchestra officials said they made the decision after consulting medical experts.

For now, the orchestra is planning to resume concerts in January, though they acknowledged that could change.

The SPCO says it's exploring how to expand its online offerings, including the possibility of live performances streamed from Ordway Concert Hall.

— Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Top headlines

After taking tough measures, Fond du Lac band has first COVID-19 cases: After months of trying to keep the coronavirus at bay, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has confirmed the first two positive COVID-19 cases on its reservation in northeastern Minnesota.

Duluth schools recommend combination of in-person and distance learning: Duluth Superintendent John Magas recommended that students in K-5 elementary schools start the school year in the classroom, with students in middle and high schools beginning the year under a hybrid model: in class one day a week, virtual learning four days a week.

During COVID-19, a growing interest in recycling food waste at home: With interest in organics recycling programs growing, the pandemic has highlighted Minnesota’s need for more compost sites to handle food waste.

Lawsuit challenges Minnesota's mask mandate: A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court is challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota’s mask mandate. A group of Republican lawmakers and voters, including the watchdog group Minnesota Voters Alliance, is suing Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and other officials. They want the mask requirement halted ahead of next week’s primary election.

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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