Oct. 15 update on COVID-19 in MN: Death count high again; active cases top 10K

A sign reads "enter" in multiple languages as a person stands at a van.
Nurse Louise Jacobs administers a nasal swab at a free drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Incarnation-Sagrado Corazon Church in Minneapolis on Aug. 15.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Updated: 11:45 a.m.

A day after reporting 29 COVID-19 deaths — the highest single-day death count in months — Minnesota health officials returned Thursday with an equally grim statistic — 19 more deaths. The two-day total is the worst for the state since early June.

Thursday’s Health Department numbers also showed active, confirmed cases of the disease have for the first time topped 10,000, a strong signal the pandemic is far from over.

The agency added 1,169 newly confirmed or probable cases to the state’s total, extending a more than a weeklong trend of new cases averaging more than 1,000 a day.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The confirmed and probable new cases reported Thursday brought the total in the pandemic to 117,106 cases to date; about 90 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The newly reported deaths Thursday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,199. Among those who’ve died, about 70 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

‘Highs are getting higher’

Officials had anticipated seeing an October surge in cases expected from Labor Day weekend gatherings, sporting events and college student meetups at the start of fall semester. They also expected the wave would put more people in the hospital. That appears to be happening.

While the spike early in the pandemic was driven largely by illnesses tied to long-term care facilities and workplace sites such as meatpacking plants, officials say the current spread is diffused, making it even harder to trace and isolate cases.

While daily new case confirmation numbers have ebbed and flowed over the past seven months, “the lows are getting higher and the highs are getting higher,” Kris Ehresmann told reporters Wednesday.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

She described the current situation as an “escalating roller coaster,” adding, “I would not say that we have reached any sort of peak at this point.”

The positive test rate trend remained above 5 percent, the threshold where officials become concerned.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

State officials this week unveiled plans to massively expand COVID-19 testing opportunities across Minnesota as active caseloads remain at record highs and hospitalizations continue to climb.

Collectively, Minnesota will soon be able to process 60,000 tests per day, officials said, about twice what it’s managed on its best days to date.

“The biggest thing we can do to ensure our kids have an opportunity to be in school, that our businesses and restaurants remain open, is to simply follow the science around masking, around social distancing, getting tested,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday. “To not do these things will guarantee that others get it.”

Concerning rise in cases among senior Minnesotans

New cases are up dramatically over the past month in all age groups. That includes a concerning rise in the number of new cases among Minnesotans ages 60 and older. It’s not clear what’s behind those increases.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 26,500 since the pandemic began, including more than 15,200 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.

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 10,800 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

Cases surging outside the Twin Cities metro area

Regionally, central, northern and southern 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.

Central Minnesota cases are skyrocketing relative to its population. It’s not clear why. Northern Minnesota, once by far the region least affected by the disease, has also seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.

Early on, many Minnesotans thought COVID-19 would be only a Twin Cities metro area problem, but now the biggest problems are happening outside the suburban and 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.

Ehresmann 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.”

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

Curbs eased for long-term care facility visits

Minnesota health officials on Monday put out new guidance to ease visiting rules for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the state.

Visitors must now be allowed if the long-term care facility has not had a COVID-19 exposure in the last 14 days. Another requirement for opening nursing homes is if there's low to medium virus transmission in the county.

There are exceptions if there is a reasonable or clinical safety cause not to open, such as staffing issues.

The new rules go into effect Saturday. They are being introduced to align with new federal recommendations. Visitors still must schedule their time with the facilities, be screened for symptoms and wear masks.

Long-term care settings have long been a deep concern for the state’s public health authorities. Among the 2,180 who’ve died from COVID-19 related complications in Minnesota, about 71 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Officials had placed severe visiting restrictions early on in the pandemic, hoping to stem the spread of the disease. They’ve also acknowledged the psychological toll that takes on residents and their families.

Latino cases jump; racial disparities persist

In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths.

Minnesotans of Hispanic descent are testing positive for COVID-19 at about five times the rate of white Minnesotans. They, along with Black Minnesotans, are also being hospitalized and moved to intensive care units at higher rates than the overall population.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by race

Similar trends hold true for Minnesota’s Indigenous and Asian residents.

The newest numbers, though, show newly confirmed cases accelerating among Latino people in Minnesota.

Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, particularly for unauthorized immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.

Officials tweak data reporting

The Health Department on Wednesday also unveiled new changes to the way it reports data on cases and deaths. Health authorities have begun reporting the results of antigen tests, a more rapid form of COVID-19 test, along with the results from the more traditional COVID-19 test known by its initials PCR.

The agency said it made the move so its reporting would align with federal guidance. Antigen testing had been relatively small prior to this, so the change to previous case counts won’t be dramatic.

The state, though, is now adding to the COVID-19 death toll people who died after having had COVID-19 confirmed by an antigen (rapid) test but not a PCR test. That added six people to the state’s death toll Wednesday on top of 23 newly reported deaths.

Even without the statistical tweak, it was still the highest number of daily deaths reported since mid-June. The jump follows similar spikes Wisconsin, which reported 34 deaths in its Tuesday report. North Dakota set a new record for daily deaths last week at 24.

Developments around the state

More free testing sites open this week

The Minnesota Department of Health and local officials are offering another round of free COVID-19 testing sites around the state this week.

Testing sites will be open Thursday in Aitkin, Alexandria, Anoka, Faribault, Luverne and St. Cloud.

Testing also will be available Thursday and Friday afternoons at New Hope Baptist Church in St. Paul.

For more details on times and testing locations — and to sign up for an appointment — go to the MDH website.

State health officials also announced that they're opening a second COVID-19 saliva testing site later this week, in Winona.

The state opened its first saliva testing site in Duluth late last month. The second site opened Wednesday at the Winona Mall.

Health Department officials say they are trying to be proactive as COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the state. They say that they're especially concerned about a growing spread of the coronavirus throughout greater Minnesota.

Saliva testing will be available to anyone who wants it or thinks they need it. So far more than 7,000 people have completed saliva testing at the first site in Duluth. State officials plan to open as many as eight more sites across the state in the coming weeks.

The Winona testing site will be open five days a week, from Wednesday through Sunday. Find more information here.

— MPR News Staff

Top headlines

National Guard tapped to fill staffing gap at Austin care facility: Staffing problems at Austin’s Sacred Heart Care Center started near the end of August, with the problem getting worse and worse over the course of several weeks until the facility needed help having enough care workers.

Judge blocks Wisconsin governor's indoor capacity limits amid spike in COVID-19 cases: The rules issued last week limited indoor public gatherings to no more than 25 percent of total occupancy limits. The state's Tavern League argued the caps would effectively put its members out of business.

Close-knit St. John’s monks seek space to stay safe in pandemic: The monks share close quarters. They eat together three times a day and pray together four times a day. And many are still actively involved in teaching and ministry outside the abbey — at the university or in local parishes. When COVID-19 arrived, their close-knit community and collective way of life meant their most vulnerable members would be at risk.

Walz says loosening restrictions about 'striking a balance' between data, follow-through: The gobernor said he’s well aware that Minnesota is taking steps to relax precautions against spreading COVID-19, even as the pandemic widens in the state.

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.