Oct. 11 update on COVID-19 in MN: Fourth straight day with 1,000+ new cases

A person wearing PPE holds a swab while standing beside a truck.
Nurse Lynn Eidahl administers a nasal swab at a free drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Incarnation-Sagrado Corazon Church in Minneapolis on Aug. 15, 2020.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Updated: 12:10 p.m.

Newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota remained above 1,000 for a fourth straight day in Sunday’s update from the state health department, with another 10 deaths reported in Minnesota.

The latest report shows 1,450 new cases in the state — down from Saturday’s record daily increase of 1,537 cases. The number of test results also decreased, with the positivity rate staying near 5 percent.

The 10 newly reported deaths included seven people living in private homes; three were residents of long-term care facilities. Sunday’s report marked the third straight day with Minnesota’s COVID-19 death toll in the double-digits. The state’s overall death toll now stands at 2,141.

The weekly average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota continued its upward trend to levels not seen in several months.

Active cases in Minnesota remain at a record high — 9,956 as of Sunday’s update. The latest update from the state health department also showed that more than 100,000 people in Minnesota who were diagnosed with COVID-19 have now reached the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

Despite the high numbers of new cases in Minnesota, more significant spikes are happening in neighboring states; Wisconsin reported more than 2,700 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday along with 18 deaths.

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Minnesota health officials are worried now about spillover effects from that rampant spread in neighboring states. While Minnesota is doing better than its neighbors right now, officials on Friday emphasized how fleeting that can be and how quickly things can change.

“We’re grateful for every day we’re not in an absolutely hideous place,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director. Minnesota’s current situation “isn’t great,” she added. “We haven’t fallen off the cliff” but “we could change rapidly,” she noted. “We could very well end up like our neighbors if we’re not careful.”

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 2,141 deaths (10 new)

  • 112,268 confirmed cases (1,450 new); 100,171 off isolation

  • 2,318,810 tests; 1,578,724 people tested

‘A lot of disease out there’

Sunday’s numbers 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 at least nine cases associated 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.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

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.

Greater levels of testing have meant more cases identified, but the percent-positive rates have been hovering for days around 5 percent, the threshold of concern for officials as they work to stem the spread of the virus.

Given the trends, “we don’t believe it’s going to be going below 5 percent anytime soon,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday.

“Even though we’re testing a lot more people, a consistent high rate of positivity means there’s a lot of disease out there,” Ehresmann added.

Despite the case jumps, state officials have changed their pandemic guidance and are increasing the allowable table/party size in Minnesota restaurants and bars as they try to balance economic needs and public health.

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.

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

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 25,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 14,700 among people ages 20-24.

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

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

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 10,400 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

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.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

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.

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

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.”

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

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.

New COVID-19 cases per capita in the Upper Midwest

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.

COVID-19 positivity rate in the Upper Midwest
Positive COVID-19 test rate in the Upper Midwest
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Minnesota also has the lowest rates in the region for deaths and COVID-19 hospitalizations, controlling for population size.

— David H. Montgomery | MPR News

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

Top headlines

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.