Updated: 2:43 p.m.
Thursday’s Health Department numbers on COVID-19 offer a mix of hope, concern and a little confusion.
There were 389 new infections reported, a third day of relatively low case growth. It’s still unclear if this is an encouraging trend or the product of Labor Day weekend reporting delays or some other data issue.
Recent testing numbers remain low, which likely explains the moderate case growth. “We’re still likely seeing depressed numbers from over the holiday weekend,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters.
The department also reported 15 more deaths, the highest number in three weeks.
Two closely watched metrics — the number of people currently in the hospital due to COVID-19 and the subset needing intensive care — stayed roughly stable: 257 are hospitalized with 138 in ICUs.
The September trend so far is down from August, when there were about 300 people in the hospital daily, on average, during the month. It’s not clear, though, if there’s evidence of an ongoing decline in hospital needs or a statistical anomaly.
Of the 82,249 confirmed cases of the disease in the pandemic to date, about 92 percent of those identified have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
With the deaths reported Thursday, Minnesota’s toll has reached 1,884 in the pandemic. Among those who’ve died, about 73 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.
Officials note that the largest risk of COVID-19 getting into long-term care facilities remains staff bringing it into the facility.
Minnesota’s seven-day trend still shows some 6,000 active, confirmed cases, although the number — confirmed and unconfirmed — was likely higher in May when testing was much lower.
College campus worries rise
State health authorities remain particularly concerned about young adults as spreaders of the virus.
People in their 20s make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 19,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 11,000 among people ages 20-24.
They’ve been driving the recent outbreaks, although the number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, topping 7,500 total cases for children 15 to 19 years old since the pandemic began.
The reality of those worries came into focus Tuesday as Winona State University announced an immediate 14-day campus quarantine that will limit all nonessential activities on campus for the next two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations and could also hamper attempts to reopen campuses completely to in-person teaching.
There are some 236 cases tied to Winona State.
Officials are also concerned about case clusters around Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College in Moorhead.
The state is working with colleges now on strategies. While a natural response might be to shut down campuses and send students home, that risks dispersing infections even wider, Ehresmann told reporters Wednesday.
About one-third of new cases in Minnesota are now coming from community spread of unknown origin — higher than just before the Fourth of July, the last major holiday that brought Minnesotans together.
Lyon County wedding spread grows
Regionally, the Twin Cities and suburbs had been driving the counts of newly reported cases. Recent data, though, show cases have been climbing in northern and central Minnesota.
Officials have warned that backyard parties, get-togethers to start the new school year and other casual meetups have fueled the current case counts.
They recently noted community spread tied to a southwest Minnesota wedding and reception in Ghent, in Lyon County, on Aug. 22 attended by 275 people.
Ehresmann on Thursday said there are now 75 cases scattered over 14 counties directly tied to that wedding. One person has been hospitalized. The median age of those infected from the wedding is 25; the age range runs from 10 to 84 years old.
“This is the largest event we’ve seen pertaining to disease transmission for a social event,” Ehresmann said. Many of those at the wedding worked in health care and education, but the department hasn’t yet identified any cases of secondary spread, she added.
Officials this week also reported 51 cases now tied to the massive Aug. 7-16 motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., up one from the department’s pre-Labor Day report. Among those cases, there have been three hospitalizations and one death, a person in their 60s with underlying health problems.
Health investigators are now seeing spread in Minnesota linked to those cases tied directly to Sturgis.
State inspectors conducting recent sweeps of bars and restaurants across southern Minnesota found dozens of establishments not complying with the state's orders to curb the spread of the disease.
Investigators dropped into bars and eateries in Mankato, St. Peter, Waseca, Faribault and New Ulm as well as spots in Carver and Scott counties. Of 167 sites visited, 79 were out of compliance in some way; 31 were referred for followup inspections.
"We know most establishments are taking the safety measures seriously. We also know that a handful of bad actors can create a ripple effect and impact the entire industry," Dan Huff, an assistant Minnesota health commissioner, told reporters Wednesday.
Compliance, not punishment, remains the goal as the state works to stem the spread of recent outbreaks, Huff and other officials said. But they made it clear that institutions shirking the rules are opening their communities to problems.
Authorities said since mid-July — around when the statewide mask order was unveiled — they've identified 68 clusters of COVID-19 cases in 66 bars and restaurants that are tied to more than 1,200 infections.
Developments around the state
Walz calls Friday special session; plans to extend powers
Gov. Tim Walz has called lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session Friday, citing the need to preserve the emergency powers that he's been using to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic governor said in his announcement Wednesday he intends to extend the state's COVID-19 peacetime state of emergency by 30 more days to ensure that the state can continue to quickly and effectively respond.
An agenda for the special session was not immediately announced. The governor had raised the possibility in recent weeks that he might not need to keep calling special sessions each time he extends his emergency powers. But in his proclamation Wednesday, he affirmed his earlier view that state law requires him to do so.
The Republican-controlled Senate has used previous special sessions to vote to end the peacetime emergency, saying that while the pandemic continues, the immediate emergency is over and that it's time for the governor to work more closely with lawmakers on how to respond. The Democratic-controlled House has blocked those attempts.
Senate Republicans also used last month's special session to oust the governor's commissioner of labor and industry. And they've signaled that other Cabinet members' jobs could be in jeopardy as the dispute over emergency powers continues.
— The Associated Press
MN House committee focuses on COVID-19 racial disparities
Top lawmakers in the Minnesota House are looking at the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.
Members of the House Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding met Wednesday to discuss the issue. DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, the chair of the committee, said there are significant racial health disparities in the state.
“I have a feeling that our policy work will continue to be heavily COVID-focused. And whether it is continuing to exist with the virus or building back better, we need to learn as much as we can about what’s going on and what the prognosis is for the future,” Hortman said.
The select committee began its work in May and meets monthly. Past meetings have focused on the pandemic’s impact on health care workers and on the economy.
— Tim Pugmire | MPR News
MN education commissioner: Keep ill kids home
With the school year starting for many students Tuesday, state K-12 education officials also implored families and teachers to stay home when they are sick.
Many students are back in the classroom while others are distance learning at home.
"I have been that parent, trying to decide whether my child is too sick to send to school so that I can get to work,” Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said Tuesday as she urged parents to continue to limit contact with others and wear masks to help limit COVID-19 in schools.
“I have been that teacher worried about the burden on my colleagues that there isn't a substitute,” she added. “I am urging you to please stay home when you are sick, keep your child home when you are sick this year."
Officials say out of the districts and charter schools that have reported their learning models, nearly two-thirds are opening the school year with a hybrid approach, and a quarter are doing full-time in person. The rest are starting with distance learning.
— MPR News Staff
3 COVID-19 myths to start the school year: As schools across Minnesota reopen, state and local officials are fighting a new foe in the pandemic: Disinformation that threatens testing strategies meant to protect students, parents and teachers — and keep schools open.
The U.S. isn’t meeting COVID-19 testing targets. What would it take to change that?: Six months into the pandemic, the United States still hasn’t met COVID-19 testing goals. On Wednesday’s MPR News with Kerri Miller, two doctors describe why testing is essential and what needs to happen in order to increase testing rates across the nation.
AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine study paused after one illness: Late-stage studies of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine candidate are on temporary hold while the company investigates if a report of a patient with a serious side effect is linked to the shot. HealthPartners announced Wednesday that they planned to enroll at least 1,500 volunteers in the study, and will reschedule patients who want to participate when the study resumes.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
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