Updated 3:09 p.m.
Minnesota’s current COVID-19 surge shows no signs of slowing. The Health Department on Friday reported another 1,401 newly confirmed cases and 14 more deaths. Hospitalization rates continue to trend upward.
They follow a stretch of more than a week when average new daily case counts topped 1,000. The trend line of active COVID-19 cases in Minnesota remains at a record high in the pandemic.
The outbreak now includes nine cases associated with President Donald Trump’s Sept. 18 rally in Bemidji. Health officials confirmed that count on Friday and said two of those nine have been hospitalized, with one needing intensive care.
Minnesota officials had anticipated COVID-19 cases to climb in late September, the result of Labor Day weekend gatherings, sporting events and college student meetups where people didn’t stay vigilant against the virus.
The surge came and the hospitalizations appear to be following. Daily counts of new hospital admissions still remain below their late May peak, but they’re climbing back toward it.
On Thursday, officials reported the second-highest number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions in a single day in the pandemic, suggesting that some of the recent surge in newly confirmed cases is surfacing now in hospital beds.
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The 14 deaths reported Friday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,121. Among those who’ve died, about 71 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.
Of the 109,312 cases of the disease confirmed in the pandemic to date, about 89 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. The positive test rate trend remains around 5 percent, a threshold of concern for public authorities trying to stem the spread of the disease.
“Even though we’re testing a lot more people, a consistent high rate of positivity means there’s a lot of disease out there,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Friday.
Despite the case jumps, state officials said they’ve changed their pandemic guidance and are increasing the allowable table/party size in Minnesota restaurants and bars. Updated rules permit as many as 10 people seated together in restaurants and event spaces, up from four or six if they were members of a single household.
Rise in cases among age 70-plus Minnesotans
New cases are up dramatically since Sept. 1 in all age groups 30 and older but the most recent data show a concerning rise in the number of new cases among Minnesotans age 70 and older. It’s not clear why.
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — some 25,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 14,400 among people ages 20-24.
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.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 10,200 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Surges seen in northern, central Minnesota
Regionally, northern, southern and central Minnesota 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.
Northern Minnesota, once by far the region least affected by the disease, has seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks relative to its population. It’s not clear what’s behind that.
Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.
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.
Early on, many Minnesotans thought COVID-19 would be only a Twin Cities metro area problem, but now the biggest problems are happening in non-urban parts of the state.
“The hottest of our hot spots are outside the metro area,” Ehresmann said Friday. That includes Martin and Pipestone counties in southern Minnesota, where positive test rates are hitting 10 percent, about twice the statewide average.
She implored Minnesotans again to wear masks in indoor public gathering spaces, socially distance and stay home if they don’t feel well. “People in greater Minnesota,” she added, “they have it within their control to make things better.”
‘Could end up like our neighbors’
State health authorities have become increasingly concerned about the major surges of COVID-19 happening in the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin and their potential spillover effects into Minnesota.
While Minnesota is doing better than its neighbors at this point, Ehresmann noted how unpredictable the pandemic has been.
“We’re grateful for every day we’re not in an absolutely hideous place,” she said. Minnesota’s current situation “isn’t great” but “we haven’t fallen off the cliff.”
Things could change rapidly, she noted. “We could very well end up like our neighbors if we’re not careful.”
Developments around the state
COVID cases leap in Minnesota’s neighboring states
COVID-19 is a topic where Minnesota is perfectly OK not being ranked No. 1. The state has seen its COVID-19 cases grow lately — but this real increase is small compared to other states in the Upper Midwest.
On Sept. 1, Minnesota was reporting around 140 new cases per million residents per day. This week, that figure is up around 185.
Wisconsin was seeing around 130 new cases per million residents per day on Sept. 1, similar to Minnesota. That’s now up to nearly 420 — more than three times higher. The situation has become so concerning that Wisconsin on Wednesday said it would open a field hospital near Milwaukee.
North and South Dakota have similarly seen their cases per capita skyrocket far above Minnesota’s levels.
This is true even though Minnesota has higher testing rates for COVID-19 than every state in the region but North Dakota.
By positivity rate, which controls for testing volume, Minnesota has by far the lowest rate in the Upper Midwest, around 5 percent, versus more than 20 percent for Wisconsin and South Dakota.
Minnesota also has the lowest rates in the region for deaths and COVID-19 hospitalizations, controlling for population size.
— David H. Montgomery | MPR News
Walz set to renew COVID-related powers on Monday
A fifth special session for the year for the Minnesota Legislature has been set for Monday.
Gov. Tim Walz issued the proclamation Wednesday. He’s required by law to call the Legislature into session because he is extending a peacetime emergency related to the coronavirus.
The House and Senate have the power to overturn that authority but it would take majority votes in each chamber, which hasn’t happened to date due to divided party control.
The session will convene at noon on Monday. It’s unclear if other measures, such as a construction projects borrowing bill, will come up for votes.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News
MN officials allow larger dining groups in restaurants, as COVID cases continue to rise: Minnesota officials have loosened some key restrictions involving restaurants and specified how many spectators may attend indoor high school games.
Prompted by pandemic, digital markets connect small farms to consumers: The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way many small farms market their produce. One experiment in online marketing started slowly a couple of years ago, but this year it's boosted income for small farmers.
High School League OKs spectators at indoor events: All schools will be allowed up to a total of two spectators per participant, the Minnesota State High School League said Thursday.
Candidate Jason Lewis self-quarantines for 2nd time in week: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis left the campaign trail for the second time in less than a week Wednesday after learning that he had been in contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Wisconsin activates field hospital as COVID-19 keeps surging: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ office said in a statement that the facility, at the state fairgrounds near Milwaukee, will open for patients within the next week. Only 16 percent of the state's 11,452 hospital beds were available as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the state Department of Health Services.
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.