Aug. 18 update on COVID-19 in MN: 9 more deaths; total cases top 66K

Signage notes new social distancing rules in Mall of America
Signage notes social distancing rules and procedures in the Mall of America on June 10 in Bloomington, Minn.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images file.

Updated 11:30 a.m.

Minnesota’s COVID-19 data Tuesday showed moderate daily death counts but current hospitalizations rising again above 300 people.

The state continued to ride what officials have described as the crest of the disease’s latest wave.

The number of newly confirmed cases was relatively small at 359 but was likely due to testing volume also being down.

Current hospitalizations (304) rose by 18 while those needing intensive care (154), ticked down by one. Hospitalizations — a key metric as officials try to manage the spread of the disease — have been running above 300 cases on average since the end of July.

That’s far below a late-May peak but still remains stubbornly persistent.

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Despite the recent relative stability in the data, Minnesota’s count of active, confirmed cases remains near its late-May high, and public health leaders believe that while the state may be at the crest of the current wave, more waves are coming.

“We’re at a place where things are stable, but the concern is we’re stable at a high rate of cases,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Monday.

Of the 66,061 total confirmed cases of the disease since the pandemic began, about 90 percent have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

With nine additional deaths reported Tuesday, Minnesota’s confirmed death toll in the pandemic stands at 1,721. About 75 percent of those who’ve died had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities.

College concerns grow as fall semester nears

Worries continue 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.

People in their 20s remain the age group with the highest number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in the pandemic — more than 15,000.

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

State public health leaders are increasingly worried about college students joining end-of-summer parties and other gatherings that could feed the spread of COVID-19 and bring it onto campuses this fall.

Clusters of cases surfaced in late June around college bars, including in Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Cloud. Concerns over similar potential outbreaks are percolating again as the fall semester nears.

“This is a bad time to throw a party, go on a group road trip or otherwise lighten up on COVID-19 precautions,” Ehresmann told reporters Friday as she called on students to “lay low before you go.”

“The pandemic is still a big problem and will likely become a bigger problem this fall,” she said. “The world has changed and wont be going back to normal at least for the next few months.”

The Health Department has posted additional guidance to colleges on ways to reduce COVID-19 risk.

Cases grow in the south

Regionally, the Twin Cities and its suburbs have been driving the counts of newly reported cases, although there’s an upswing now in southern Minnesota.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Northern Minnesota cases have been on the rise for weeks, although they tapered off in the most recent report. Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, has seen a steady climb the past few weeks. The county reported 279 cases and one death as of Tuesday.

Meatpacking operations had been hot spots for big outbreaks in southwest, west-central and central Minnesota earlier in the pandemic.

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

New cases have slowed considerably in recent weeks, although the problem has resurfaced recently in McLeod County (278 cases), where more than 20 employees at a Seneca Foods plant in Glencoe were identified recently in an outbreak.

Developments from around the state

U of M study: Minn. among states with largest racial disparities in COVID-19

A University of Minnesota study of COVID-19 data from 12 states found racial and ethnic disparities among those hospitalized for the coronavirus.

The two-month study looked at 49,000 hospitalizations and found that Black people hospitalized at a higher rate than white people in all 12 states. The study found that Minnesota had some of the highest disparities in hospitalizations of Black people. While about 7 percent of the state's population is Black, the race represented a quarter of those hospitalized for the virus.

University of Minnesota professor Pinar Karaca-Mandic, a health economist at the Carlson School, said there are also racial disparities in confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"Not everyone infected gets hospitalized, right? You have to show a more severe form of the disease to show up in the hospital, and we see that in our data, essentially disparities must be existing on both sides of this coin," Karaca-Mandic said.

The study found similar hospitalization disparities in the state's data for Hispanic and Native American populations.

— Peter Cox | MPR News

Mayo Clinic: Plasma efforts show promise

Researchers with a national program led by Mayo Clinic say they've made two key findings in using plasma to treat people with COVID-19.

The so-called convalescent plasma comes from people who have recovered from the disease. The program included more than 35,000 hospitalized patients.

Researchers say starting plasma transfusions sooner — within three days of a COVID-19 diagnosis — was associated with a lower mortality rate. That rate also dropped for patients who received plasma with higher antibody levels.

Mayo officials noted that it was not a clinical trial and has not yet been peer reviewed, but they say the findings may help inform future trials for COVID-19 treatments.

— MPR News Staff

School guidance map shifts with new data

Fresh data released by the Minnesota Department of Health is again shifting the guidance for some of the state’s school districts as they decide whether to teach kids in-person, online or in some combination based on their local COVID-19 conditions.

The new numbers, for instance, indicate elementary school students in Ramsey and Dakota counties would no longer be recommended to attend school in person — if school started this week — due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Data released Thursday by the Health Department indicate 11 counties, including Ramsey and Dakota, should shift away from in-person learning because of rising cases.

Recommendations for school reopening based on COVID-19 case counts
Recommendations for school reopening based on COVID-19 case counts

Schools in another 14 counties, largely in the southern part of the state, would be recommended to shift toward in-person learning. The state’s other 62 counties saw no change in their recommendations, which are based on COVID-19 cases per capita over a 14-day period.

Officials have emphasized the map is meant to be a starting point for school districts as they weigh their mix of in-person and online instruction in the COVID-19 era. The numbers, and the accompanying recommendations, are updated every week now.

Counties with very few cases per capita are recommended to have in-person learning for all students — 48 counties as of Thursday.

With more cases, schools are urged to have secondary students do a mix of in-person and distance learning while still doing in-person school for elementary grades. Another 29 counties fall into that category.

Eight counties are currently recommended for hybrid learning for all students. They include Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Scott, Sherburne and Blue Earth.

Two counties have so many cases that the state currently recommends upper-grade students there study remotely full-time: Rock County in southwestern Minnesota, and Red Lake County in northwestern Minnesota.

Officials have stressed that the county-level data is a roadmap, not an order. Districts within those counties are making decisions that may not fit exactly with the data.

St. Paul Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district and the largest district in Ramsey County, has already announced it will start the school year with all students distance learning and will revisit the decision in late September.

— David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Top headlines

COVID-19 case confirmed at Sturgis bar. South Dakota health officials on Tuesday warned that one person who spent several hours at a bar on Main Street in Sturgis during last week’s massive motorcycle rally has tested positive for COVID-19 and may have spread it to others.

Politics slows flow of U.S. virus funds to local public health: Congress has allocated trillions of dollars to ease the coronavirus crisis. A joint Kaiser Health News and AP investigation finds that many communities with big outbreaks have spent little of that federal money on local public health departments for work such as testing and contact tracing. Others, like Minnesota, were slow to do so.

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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