Minnesota health officials reported 806 new, confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday — down from Saturday's record high, but ahead of the recent daily average.
The state also reported nine more deaths from COVID-19, pushing the overall death toll to 1,657.
The new cases reported Sunday were based on more than 20,000 completed tests, among the highest testing totals on record so far in Minnesota. That pushed the daily percentage of positive tests below 4 percent in the latest report from the Minnesota Department of Health.
That's down from a record 924 new cases and a 5.3 percent positive rate in Saturday's report. Going into Sunday, the state had been averaging about 710 cases a day over the previous week.
The deaths reported Sunday included five people living in private homes, and four residents of long-term care facilities.
Hospitalizations rose to 312 in Sunday’s report, up from 309 on Saturday and 300 on Friday. About half of those patients were being treated in ICUs.
Minnesotans in their 20s are the age group with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, while most of the people who have died from the disease are 60 or older.
The state says 53,568 people with COVID-19 — about 88 percent — have reached the point where they no longer need to be isolated.
State health officials have said that positive tests reported on a given day usually are the result of transmission that happened two to three weeks previously.
Saturday marked two weeks since Minnesota’s mask mandate — requiring the wearing of face coverings in indoor public places — took effect. Given the lag time in detecting cases, state health officials have said it could take at least 21 days from the start of the mandate, to determine whether it is affecting the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics:
60,898 cases confirmed (806 new) via 1,159,139 tests
1,657 deaths (9 new)
5,555 cases requiring hospitalization
312 people remain hospitalized; 148 in intensive care
53,568 patients no longer requiring isolation
Two closely watched metrics — people currently hospitalized and those needing intensive care — have generally flattened after climbing in recent weeks, although Sunday marked the 10th straight day with 300 or more people still hospitalized, the first time that’s happened since late June.
‘Fragile’ progress at risk
Despite the relatively good numbers, officials on Friday raised fresh worries about long-term care facilities, the epicenter for most of Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths.
In early May, Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a “battle plan” to safeguard Minnesotans living in long-term care facilities, including expanded testing and a promise of “adequate” staffing when workers fall ill. It helped drive down daily death counts to mostly single digits the past six weeks.
Now, though, officials worry those gains may slip away as COVID-19 ripples across the state.
They say they’re seeing new cases tied to long-term care facilities that they believe are being driven largely by community spread and brought in inadvertently by facility staff as restrictions on daily life loosen and people return to indoor gathering spaces and attend family events.
“The staff are clearly having more exposures in the community than in the facilities themselves,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist.
She urged people to stay vigilant against the spread of the disease — wearing masks in indoor gathering places, social distancing and washing hands — and warned that the work to limit spread among vulnerable populations was at risk.
“This is fragile and we are very concerned that the progress we have made can be at risk, and can even be lost, if we let up on our precautions,” she said. “We need everyone in Minnesota to be doing their part to limit transmission. We are all connected to each other.”
Cases bubble up 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.
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 counts of newly reported cases. But the disease is present in all parts of the state, including the north, which had largely avoided the outbreak until recently.
Many of the state’s fastest-growing outbreaks relative to population are in northern Minnesota.
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.
Malcolm and other state public health leaders have warned all week that Sturgis, which runs through Aug. 16, could be a potential petri dish for spreading the virus here and across the nation.
The event is expected to attract more than 250,000 riders and their friends from around the country to the Black Hills.
Malcolm on Friday said self-isolating for 14 days after Sturgis was especially important for people who work with seniors or other populations highly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Too many people have already gotten very sick and have unfortunately died of this disease in our state,” she said. “We don't want to see any more.”
Developments from around the state
Grand Portage reports first confirmed case
Officials with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa said Saturday that they've confirmed the first case of COVID-19 on the reservation in far northeastern Minnesota.
They said the patient, a man in his 30s, lives on the reservation.
"The patient remains in quarantine, complied with mandatory contact tracing protocols and has been interviewed by health officials," band officials said in an online post. "Currently, our concern is for the health of this patient and the continued safety and health of the community."
Cook County — which includes the reservation — has just five confirmed cases as of Sunday, though officials have long said the actual number of cases across the state is higher than what's confirmed.
The news from Grand Portage follows an announcement from the Fond du Lac Band last Wednesday that it had confirmed the first two COVID-19 cases on its reservation near Cloquet.
— Andrew Krueger | MPR News
School guidance shifting with case counts
State health officials last week said they’d use county-level COVID-19 data as the starting point to help school districts decide whether to bring kids back into their buildings this fall. Newly updated data, though, is already altering the landscape.
Fresh numbers released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health have changed the guidance for school reopening in 27 counties — if the school year started today.
Rising COVID-19 caseloads mean schools in seven counties are recommended to use more distance learning than the original recommendations issued last week.
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 in terms of bringing kids back to buildings.
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
3rd special session kicks off Wednesday
Gov. Tim Walz has called a special legislative session for Wednesday, the third one of the summer, to extend his peacetime emergency around the coronavirus pandemic for a fifth time and another 30 days.
State law requires him to call a session so lawmakers can debate whether to revoke his authority. With control of the Legislature split between parties, it’s unlikely the DFL governor’s action will be overturned.
Although several measures remain unresolved from the two prior special sessions, there is not expected to be movement on budget changes or a construction borrowing package. That should make for an in-and-out session instead of the several-day affairs that occurred in June and July.
— Brian Bakst | 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.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation 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
Many Minnesota teachers wary of returning to the classroom: As more school districts in Minnesota decide how to go back to school this fall, many teachers feel uneasy about returning to the classroom in the middle of a pandemic.
Exempt from COVID-19 guidance, some Minnesota private schools are seeing a surge in applicants: Many independent and faith-based schools are offering face-to-face instruction this fall when their public school neighbors cannot.
St. Paul to start school year with distance learning; St. Cloud eyes hybrid plan: The St. Paul district says it will revisit the decision in late September. St. Cloud’s school board is expected to vote on the superintendent’s recommendation on Aug. 19.
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.
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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