Sept. 27 update on COVID-19 in MN: 1,000+ new cases for third straight day

A person holds a vial and nasal swab.
A Minnesota Department of Health contractor holds a vial and a nasal swab while talking to a participant at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing event Wednesday at the Itasca County Fairgrounds in Grand Rapids, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

The number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in Minnesota on Sunday decreased from the previous day's record total.

But it remained above 1,000 for the third consecutive day, the first time that's happened in Minnesota during the ongoing pandemic.

That comes as testing also remains at a high level — with Sunday marking the third consecutive day with more than 26,000 results reported, also a first for the pandemic in Minnesota. The rate of positive tests dropped on Sunday after climbing slightly over the previous few days.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Sunday reported four more deaths from COVID-19 — one of them a resident of a long-term care facility, and three of them people who were living in private residences. Minnesota's COVID-19 death toll now stands at 2,008, after having passed 2,000 deaths on Saturday.

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The number of Minnesotans newly admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 treatment dropped slightly, but the number of new COVID-19 admissions to ICUs continued to climb.

The number of active confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state climbed to 8,474 — another record for Minnesota.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Rising case counts and other data paint a picture indicating the pandemic is far from over, a point public health authorities have been hammering at for weeks as they implore Minnesotans to wear masks in indoor public spaces, socially distance, wash their hands and generally stay out of crowds to curb the disease’s community spread.

Spread is being driven largely now by weddings, funerals and informal get-togethers among friends and families who are not staying vigilant against the disease, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Friday.

While daily death counts have eased since the spring, “the virus is still dangerous,” she said. “COVID did not magically go away or get to be a better virus over the last few months.”

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 2,008 deaths (4 new)

  • 96,734 confirmed cases (1,077 new); 86,252 off isolation

  • 1,981,100 tests, 1,384,512 people tested

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations

Worries rise around college students, kids

People in their 20s make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — surpassing 22,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 13,100 infections among people ages 20-24.

The numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about young adults as spreaders of the virus.

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

While less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations and that spread could hamper attempts to reopen campuses completely to in-person teaching.

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 9,000 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

With many schools in Minnesota attempting to teach in-person, officials say they are especially concerned about the rising numbers of teens becoming infected and how that could affect decisions to keep school buildings open.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

“We’re very concerned about what we’re seeing in the data. Educators have worked very hard to create a safe working plan, but the plan only works if we’re working together,” Ehresmann said Wednesday, adding that “it won’t be too much longer until many schools have difficult decisions to make.”

‘Virus doesn’t care where the state line is’

Regionally, southern and central Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs have driven much of the increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Hot spots have included southwestern Minnesota, where at least 75 cases have been traced to a late-August wedding in Lyon County that officials describe now as the state’s largest single social spreader event.

On Wednesday, Ehresmann said investigators have identified 35 cases tied directly to a recent funeral in Martin County, and they expected to find more. Seventeen other cases are linked to the church where the funeral services were held, including cases among church staff.

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

Southeastern Minnesota, specifically Winona, has been another hot spot as students return to college at Winona State and other schools. The problem has been compounded by similar outbreaks nearby across the Mississippi River at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The virus doesn’t care where the state line is,” Ehresmann said. “The virus cares about where people are gathering together.”

Developments around the state

Judge seems skeptical of mask mandate challenge

A federal judge gave a skeptical airing Wednesday to a lawsuit challenging Gov. Tim Walz’s mask mandate on several grounds.

U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz heard arguments in the case attempting to prevent enforcement of the Minnesota requirement that people wear face coverings in public indoor spaces amid the pandemic.

Schiltz sharply challenged lawyer Erick Kaardal, who brought the case, over his contention that the mandate conflicts with another law making it illegal for people to conceal their identity with a mask or another disguise.

“To prosecute someone in a pandemic for wearing a mask who is trying to comply with an order and who is trying to protect their health and who is trying to protect the health of their neighbors, you think that would be reasonable?” Schiltz asked Kaardal, who represents the Minnesota Voters Alliance and several individuals.

Kaardal said the two directives need to be reconciled.

“The court represents ordinary people. How would ordinary people interpret this?” Kaardal said. “It looks to me like the state Legislature didn’t want people concealing their identity in public.”

He filed the case on the grounds that the mask rules could have ramifications at polling places, but the legal effort goes far beyond that.

The judge and Kaardal had several tense exchanges during the nearly three-hour hearing. One came as discussion turned to whether the mask mandate violates First Amendment rights related to free expression.

“According to your logic, you’re unpatriotic if you don’t believe everyone should wear a mask everywhere,” Kaardal said to Schiltz.

“I didn’t and would never use the word ‘patriotic’ in an argument. It has nothing to do with the issues before me. That’s a moral judgment that it’s not my job to make,” Schiltz replied.

“I’m saying the logic of your position, Mr. Kaardal, is if there is a criminal law out there that says X is a crime and you have every way possible to express your opposition to that law. What your position is that you also have a First Amendment right to express your opposition by violating that criminal law,” he continued. “I’m saying I’m unaware of any case that so holds.”

Schiltz didn’t rule on any matters in the case but told attorneys, including for the government entities named as defendants, that he was leaning against impeding the mask requirement on constitutional grounds.

The case is one of several pending challenges to executive actions Walz has taken to respond to COVID-19’s spread.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Virus spread shifts the school guidance map

The evolving COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota continues to change school reopening recommendations around the state.

The most recent batch of recommendations, released Sept. 17, cover cases from Aug. 23 to Sept. 5 — a period that happened to see a late-August spike in new COVID-19 cases.

The result? A full 25 counties saw their COVID-19 case counts slip past one of the Health Department’s thresholds, changing their recommendation toward more distance learning for more students.

School reopening guidance as of Sept. 17 by Minnesota county

In the most recent update, six counties are recommended to have all students do full-time distance learning: Blue Earth, Lyon, Stevens, Waseca, Winona and Yellow Medicine counties. All but Waseca County were previously recommended to allow at least some in-person learning.

Not every county got worse. Eleven counties saw their case rates improve compared to last week’s results, and saw their recommendation shift to more in-person learning.

Overall, 24 largely rural counties have a recommendation of in-person for all students.

A formula produced by the Health Department generates the guidance for districts to help decide whether to have in-person learning, distance learning, or a mix, based on the rate of COVID-19 cases in that district’s county over a two-week period.

These recommendations are only considered the starting point for school districts, which make their own learning plans in cooperation with the Health Department.

New COVID-19 cases over the period used for school reopening guidance
New COVID-19 cases, by the date the sample was taken, over the two-week period used for school reopening guidance.

Minnesota’s yo-yoing COVID-19 case numbers in recent weeks have meant some drastic swings in school districts’ safe learning recommendations, but state health officials say they’re taking the data irregularities into account when working with schools to set learning plans.

Because Minnesota’s calculation uses weeks-old data and calculates cases by the day a person got tested rather than the day the tests were reported, this update is not affected by recent reporting delays caused by the Labor Day weekend.

— David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Top headlines

Mayor of Minnesota city disputes MDH reports of health workers being threatened: The mayor of a southern Minnesota city is pushing back on state health department claims that a COVID-19 survey team was threatened there earlier this month.

COVID-19 cases already closing some Minnesota school buildings: Three weeks into the new academic year, COVID-19 cases are already causing some K-12 districts across Minnesota to close their school buildings and send teachers and students into quarantine.

State launches ‘barrier-free’ COVID-19 testing push: State health officials are holding coronavirus mass testing events this week in Grand Rapids, Waseca, Pine City and St. Paul — the first step in a monthlong push to increase testing to try to help slow the community spread of COVID-19.

Requests for gun permits soared this summer: The pandemic and recent unrest is driving Minnesotans to seek firearms for safety. However, gun rights and gun safety advocates urge new owners and permit holders to follow safety precautions.

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.