Aug. 29 update on COVID-19 in MN: More than 1,000 new cases in the state

A sign reads "Pull up for testing" as cars park under a tent.
People visit a COVID-19 drive-thru and walk-up testing site at North Memorial Health Specialty Center in Robbinsdale in early August.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: 12:35 p.m.

Minnesota health officials reported 1,032 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the second-highest daily increase on record and the second time in three days that the state’s new case count surpassed 1,000.

The record was set on Thursday, with 1,158 new cases that day. State officials said Thursday’s high number was due in part to results coming in from a backlog at one testing lab. But the Minnesota Department of Health said none of the cases reported Saturday were part of that backlog.

And even before the backlogged results started entering the system, the average daily number of new cases in Minnesota had been trending upward in the past two weeks — causing heightened concern among health officials as students head back to schools, colleges and universities across the state. The percentage of positive tests also has been ticking upward in recent days.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Meanwhile the state reported four additional deaths on Saturday, all of them residents of long-term care facilities. Hospitalizations climbed from 301 on Friday to 313 in Saturday’s report, while the number of those patients being treated in ICUs dropped slightly.

Minnesota has identified at least 21 clusters of COVID-19 cases this month associated with parties and other social gatherings that took place in the state.

The cases linked to parties, weddings, funerals and other gatherings are part of what Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said is a “disturbing” trend of increasing case numbers.

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Ehresmann said failing to follow social distancing and other health guidelines delays the chance to ease restrictions on gatherings and in-person schooling — and puts others at risk.

“As we count down the days to a time when we have an effective vaccine available, we can take the perspective that every day you or a friend or family member doesn't get COVID is a victory,” she told reporters Friday.

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics in Minnesota:

  • 74,257 cases confirmed (1,032 new) via 1,460,381 tests (17,037 new)

  • 1,814 deaths (four new)

  • 6,411 cases requiring hospitalization

  • 313 currently hospitalized; 134 in intensive care

  • 66,107 patients no longer needing isolation

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

The latest numbers come as students and teachers around the state are preparing to return to school — and as districts are determining whether that will happen in person, online or by a combination of those approaches. A district’s approach is, in part, guided by the COVID-19 data in its surrounding region.

Ehresmann said everyone should help limit community transmission of the virus to make on-site learning more possible for students.

"Our priority right now is ensuring that kids can safely attend school, and as many in person as safely possible, and so we want to make sure that what's happening in the community is at a place to allow for as much in-person education as can safely happen," she said.

Due to increasing case numbers, several districts have shifted away from initial plans for in-person learning — and others are considering it.

The testing backlog reported earlier in the week was from Valley Medical, which operates three testing locations and a lab in the Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville. State officials said it has "an inconsistent record of reporting results," and had a backlog of nearly 19,000 tests that will be entered into state statistics over the coming days.

Current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

State shining spotlight on bars, restaurants

Minnesota health officials on Friday announced that they are increasing assessment and enforcement of COVID-19 prevention rules at bars and restaurants. State staff will be checking in at restaurants and bars to make sure they provide at least 6 feet of space between tables and limit their occupancy to 50 percent.

Several outbreaks this summer have been tied to bars and restaurants across Minnesota that aren’t following state rules.

Ehresmann said the enforcement was prompted by complaints over the past few weeks to several state agencies about bars and restaurants not following the state’s executive orders that govern how they might open safely to customers in the midst of the pandemic.

Gov. Tim Walz said the goal of the increased enforcement is to keep the state’s COVID-19 numbers from rising again. He praised the work of bars and restaurants that have been successful in following state guidelines.

"The data seems to support that we're not getting transmission in those locations,” he said. “And we should make sure that that's the case."

Those rules, governed by executive orders issued by Walz throughout the pandemic, include limiting — and distancing — indoor seating; requiring customers to be sitting; ensuring that employees always wear masks; accepting in-person customers by reservation only; limiting group sizes and adopting a coronavirus preparedness plan.

“I want to be clear. We know that most establishments are following federal and state guidelines,” Ehresmann said. “But it’s really hard for them to compete or even to explain to their customers while they are following the guidelines, while there are other establishments that are not in compliance.”

Ehresmann said the complaints prompting the enhanced enforcement have come from customers, owners and employees alike.

State officials say some bars and restaurants complying with the regulations have said it's difficult to compete with establishments that do not.

“We owe it — meaning, state government — to the establishments that are following the guidelines to address issues of noncompliance,” Ehresmann said.

She added that the Health Department has seen outbreaks tied to bars and restaurants that haven’t complied with statewide orders.

Last week, the state identified 29 bars and restaurants across Minnesota to which outbreaks could be traced.

Walz said compliance is especially important in areas where college students are going back to school.

"A few of these incidents can have a dramatic impact on the spread in the community that puts other businesses and our schools at risk — as well as starting to overwhelm the health care system,” he said.

Establishments that aren't complying with COVID-19 rules, including guidelines to protect employee safety, may be fined or closed.

COVID-19 cases on MN college campuses grows

In the past week, 51 colleges and universities across Minnesota have reported at least one confirmed COVID-19 case — in students, faculty or staff members, state health officials said Friday.

The vast majority of those schools have had fewer than five cases, but Ehresmann said the scope of the reports is of concern.

“Preliminary case data unfortunately demonstrates quite clearly the risk of students and staff bringing COVID with them when they return to campus,” she said.

This comes at the same time that cases among teenagers and people in their 20s are rising, and much of this week have represented the highest number of cases among any age groups in the state. Cumulatively, no age group has had more cases in Minnesota than people in between the ages of 20 and 24.

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

For weeks, state health officials have been urging students, faculty, staff — and their families — to try to mitigate the possibility of being exposed to COVID-19 before they return to campus.

Among the suggestions: Limit interactions with people outside their households for at least 14 days before return; continue mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing; and get tested if they have reason to believe they’ve been exposed, or if they’re having symptoms related to COVID-19.

Ehresmann said most of the newly detected coronavirus infections likely occurred off-campus, which underscores the importance of taking steps to minimize their risk of exposure before arriving for the fall semester.

Secondary transmission connected to Sturgis motorcycle rally

Also on Friday, state health officials announced that they have identified more Minnesotans who tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

Ehresmann added that they are now beginning to see secondary transmission — positive cases among people who are in contact with those who attended the Sturgis rally, but who didn’t attend themselves.

That brings the total number of cases in Minnesota that have been connected to the event to 46. That number does not include any secondary infections linked to those cases.

The rally drew some 460,000 people from across the country to the Black Hills of South Dakota between Aug. 7 and Aug. 16. According to reports, most attendees didn't take significant precautions against COVID-19 infections.

State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said that one of the infected Minnesotans was working at a temporary bar during the event.

Two Minnesota patients who were associated with the event have been hospitalized — one in intensive care.

State health officials continue to urge anyone who attended the rally to self-isolate for 14 days, get tested if they don’t feel well and stay home until they get the test results.


Developments around the state

Osseo school district pushes back start of in-person learning

The Osseo, Minn., school district on Friday became the latest to delay the start of in-person learning. The district’s school board voted 4-to-1 in favor of delaying the start of a hybrid learning option until Sept. 28.

The decision was controversial. Earlier this week, the board voted down a plan the superintendent recommended to delay hybrid learning until mid-October, although they did approve a one-week delay to start of the academic year for all students.

Superintendent Cory McIntyre said the extra two weeks of distance learning was needed to hire and train staff as well as monitor COVID-19 case counts in the district’s counties and cities. He also warned that the district may need to change their plans again, depending on case rate data.

Many Minnesota school administrators have said that a hybrid model of learning is the most difficult to implement.

— Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

U of M Crookston imposing COVID-19 curfew

The University of Minnesota Crookston has imposed a 9 p.m. on-campus curfew in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause said the curfew is designed to keep students away from bars or large off-campus gatherings.

School officials will reevaluate the curfew on Sept. 8, based on the number of COVID-19 cases in the area, and local health care capacity.

"Decisions are very much made based upon what's happening locally, because we know it can change from one community to another,” she said. “And those will be the factors that will help guide that decision as we go forward."

Holz-Clause says exceptions will be made for students with off-campus jobs.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Local health departments push back on CDC asymptomatic testing reversal

Local health departments in the U.S. are pushing for reversal of a recent change to coronavirus testing guidance, saying it is undermining their work to stop outbreaks.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Big Cities Health Coalition, which together represent about 3,000 local health departments, released the letter Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly posted the change Monday. The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. But the new guidance said those people did “not necessarily need a test” unless they were more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Public health experts have blasted the new guidance, saying testing contacts of infected people is key to keep outbreaks in check, and many infected people don’t show symptoms.

Under the guidance, doctors or public health officials could still recommend a test. “Testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients,” CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said in statement.

Local health officials said federal authorities didn’t offer any scientific evidence for the change, which effectively shifted more responsibility to municipalities.

— The Associated Press

Two COVID-19 cases possibly linked to St. Paul Saints baseball game

Two COVID-19 cases may be connected to attendance at a St. Paul Saints baseball game.

Even as the Vikings announce there will be no fans at the team’s first two home games, the Saints continue to allow fans in its home stadium, CHS Field.

CHS Field, where the team plays, follows strict guidelines that allow 1,500 people in the stadium at a time — a fraction of its typical capacity. Attendees are separated into six designated grouping, known as pods, each with a 250-person capacity.

Saints executive vice president Derek Sharrer said safety for players and guests is the ball club’s top priority.

“Each of those pods have their own exit and entrance. They have their own concession stand. They have their own restrooms,” he said. “It’s also very important that you are able to social distance in those spaces, allowing a minimum of 100 square feet.”

Reports show CHS Field may have connections to two COVID-19 cases. Saints officials say the reports are not definitive, but they are taking the situation seriously. Sharrer said the relationship between the COVID-19 cases and CHS Field is not entirely clear.

“The Minnesota Department of Health provided some assurance as to what an exposure associated with attending a Saints game meant,” he said. “To the general public, it read as though there had been two cases traced to CHS Field. That’s by no means the case. CHS Field showed up on a list of possible places of exposure. Nonetheless, we are taking it very seriously.”

State health officials said CHS Field does not need to adjust its social distancing protocols.

— Faye Williams | MPR News


Top headlines

Minnesota looks for additional $300 in weekly jobless aid: Gov. Tim Walz said his administration has applied for access to a federal program that would tack $300 per week more on unemployment checks for people whose lost wages are directly attributable to the pandemic. That’s half of what had been available until late July, when a different add-on expired.

Reporting backlog from Twin Cities lab leads to unprecedented Minn. COVID-19 case counts: The Minnesota Health Department says the Valley Medical and Wellness lab has a track record of not reporting new coronavirus cases to the state, which has meant hundreds of new cases haven’t been investigated quickly.

As one family navigates COVID-19, they ask whether it’s safe to disagree during a pandemic: For months, members of the sprawling Hochstetler family disagreed on how seriously to take the coronavirus pandemic. But when four family members — and two close friends — got sick, they had to grapple with a challenging question: Whether it’s safe to agree to disagree in a pandemic.


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.