Sept. 29 update on COVID-19 in MN: Hospitalizations climb; active cases hit record high

A person with a piece of string attached to her finger.
A guest ties a 6-feet-long piece of string to her finger April 10 during a surprise drive-by wedding reception for a newlywed couple. Outbreaks are being driven largely now by formal and informal get-togethers among friends, families and co-workers who are not staying vigilant against the disease, state officials say.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: 4:15 p.m.

Minnesota posted another 817 confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday with hospitalizations rising to their highest level since late May.

While the count of new cases retreated from the past few days’ record highs, testing was down even more, and the share of tests to come back positive went up. The number of active, confirmed cases of the disease also hit a record with a seven-day average approaching 8,000.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Five more deaths reported Tuesday put Minnesota’s toll to 2,020. Among those who’ve died, about 72 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Of the 98,447 cases of the disease confirmed in the pandemic to date, about 90 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. Minnesota is likely to cross the 100,000-case milestone in the next few days.

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

The newest numbers come as officials caution that outbreaks are being driven now largely by formal and informal get-togethers among friends, families and co-workers who are not staying vigilant against the disease.

Outbreaks are also increasing at workplaces from grocery stores to manufacturing, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Monday.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

The state is also seeing more cases among working-age Minnesotans 20 to 40 years old. “You could be exposing a colleague who could get very sick,” Ehresmann cautioned as she implored people to socially distance, wear masks in indoor gathering spaces and stay home if they don’t feel well.

Weddings have accounted for 37 outbreaks. One that included an outdoor reception left two people hospitalized with the disease. “One event can affect so many people,” she said.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 case count jumped by more than 2,500 over the weekend, as the state’s death toll from the pandemic surpassed 2,000. New counts of active confirmed cases remain at or near record highs in the pandemic.

Worries continue around college students, kids

People in their 20s make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — some 23,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 13,400 infections among people ages 20-24.

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

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

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.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with nearly 9,300 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.

Regionally, southern and central Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs have driven much of the recent 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

In southwestern Minnesota, at least 75 cases have been traced to a late-August wedding in Lyon County that officials have previously described as the state’s largest single social spreader event.

Thirty-nine cases have now been traced to a Martin County funeral, with one person hospitalized.

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.

Three of the state’s latest hot spot counties sit on Minnesota’s western border.

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

Developments around the state

Walz mulls regional easing of restaurant, business curbs

Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday he may be open to easing limits on the number of people allowed in businesses, including restaurants, in parts of the state where the pandemic appears to be well-controlled.

Walz pointed to schools as a good example of organizations adapting to the changing COVID-19 environment.

After meeting with small business owners in Stillwater, Walz  brought up the idea of regional capacity restrictions.

"It's possible, yes, and I don't want to put that out there and create news where there's not news,” he said. The governor noted that it's difficult to discuss easing restrictions at a time of exploding numbers of new cases in Minnesota.

Still, he said the option should be on the table at some point. "I think that is one of the strategies that we're giving a hard look to."

— Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

‘No reason to doubt’ health workers who say they felt threatened

State officials last week said a fact-finding team with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was threatened in mid-September by residents of Eitzen, in far southeastern Minnesota, as the workers attempted to survey residents on COVID-19.

The state Health Department said the team reported their car was blocked in and they were confronted by several people — one of them allegedly armed. Eitzen’s mayor later responded saying the account was not accurate and that a city official and two other residents responded to concerns about people going door to door in an unmarked car with California plates.

The mayor said no one was threatened and no gun was present.

Asked about the discrepancy, Dan Huff, an assistant Minnesota health commissioner, stood by his department’s description.

The agency has “no reason to doubt the details of their reports,” Huff said of the CDC workers, noting that Eitzen and other incidents in Minnesota were serious enough that the CDC decided to pull its team from the state.

— MPR News Staff

The Minnesota Department of Health is cautioning restaurant and bar owners about phone scams tied to the state's mask mandate.

Officials say they've received reports businesses are receiving calls claiming they need to pay a fine for masking violations after a compliance check.

In at least one case, the fraudulent calls targeted a business in an area where officials had not done any checks.

The Health Department said it is not issuing any fines on an initial inspection, and that it's emphasizing education about the rules.

— MPR News Staff

More free COVID-19 testing sites announced

Six cities across the state will have free COVID-19 testing this week as part of community testing efforts by the Minnesota Department of Health.

There will be testing sites Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Bemidji, Bloomington, Maplewood, Marshall, Moorhead and Thief River Falls. There's also testing next Saturday in Maplewood.

Find a complete list of locations and times here.

MDH said you don’t need insurance or identification, and you can get tested even if you don’t have symptoms. They're asking people to make an appointment ahead of time — more information is on the state health department website.

The testing sites are intended for those local communities; if you live farther away, MDH suggests getting tested at your local clinic.

— MPR News Staff

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

Vikings stop practice after Titans players test positive for COVID-19: The Minnesota Vikings are halting practice and other team activities after tests confirmed COVID-19 among several players on the Tennessee Titans, the team that played the Vikings Sunday in Minneapolis.

Boo-what? Drive-thru booya brings northern Minn. community together during pandemic: Booya is a longstanding fall tradition in some Midwestern communities. It’s an event and a food: A thick, hearty stew made from a variety of meats, vegetables and spices in a giant kettle, often over an open fire. It’s a fundraiser, a community event — and, in Hackensack, a way to connect at a time when people are working hard to stay apart.

Six months in, tribal nations cautiously optimistic about COVID-19 response: A little more than six months since Minnesota registered its first case of COVID-19, tribal nations in Minnesota are measured in their optimism about the effects of their efforts to manage the pandemic — but looking cautiously ahead to what health officials warn will be a difficult fall and winter.

Wisconsin tops 2,000 COVID-19 cases for 4th straight day: Wisconsin health officials on Sunday reported 2,217 new cases of the coronavirus, the fourth day in a row the state has confirmed more than 2,000 positive tests.

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 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.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.