Updated: 3:20 p.m.
As Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers continue to move swiftly in the wrong direction, Gov. Tim Walz on Monday again implored Minnesotans to do more to stem the disease’s rampant spread.
Reaching for a football metaphor, Walz called on Minnesotans to make a “goal-line stand” against the virus by wearing masks, socially distancing and staying home if you feel ill.
“We can write a different story about what COVID-19 does in Minnesota, but it’s going to take all of us,” he told reporters.
His top health officials again urged Minnesotans to rethink their plans for large family gatherings at Thanksgiving and other upcoming holidays, warning they pose a rising risk.
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Given the current high levels of community spread in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, get-togethers of “large extended families, multiple families from around the region, that absolutely would be a really, really bad idea this year,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.
Even limited family gatherings of more than 10 need to be “thought through carefully,” she added.
‘No longer safe’
The remarks by Walz and his health leaders painted an increasingly worrisome picture of an outbreak now driven more by people letting their guard down at family gatherings and celebrations, sporting events and informal meetups rather than at stores, restaurants and bars.
There have been more than 70 related outbreaks from weddings since June, and that's lead to more than 600 cases among those attending, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.
The “vast majority” of COVID-19 spread is coming from these kinds of events, said Ehresmann. “Things that were relatively safe a month or two ago are no longer safe."
Minnesota reported nearly 1,600 new COVID-19 cases Monday, continuing an October with average new counts of more than 1,000 a day. The trend line of new daily cases appears to have flattened, although at a high level.
The average number of daily new hospitalizations, however, continues to climb. Average daily hospital admissions are now well above their prior late-May peak. Malcolm said that as of Sunday there were 582 people hospitalized in Minnesota due to COVID-19 — a 70 percent increase from the start of October.
The newest numbers come following a weekend when the Health Department reported nearly 4,000 more confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 more deaths.
State officials expected that late summer and early fall gatherings would bring a surge of cases in October. They also anticipated the wave would put more people in the hospital — and lead to more deaths. That appears to be happening.
Active confirmed cases are at pandemic highs. COVID-19 cases are also skyrocketing among Minnesota’s neighboring states.
“There is more disease out there, and not just because we’re doing more testing,” Malcolm told reporters Friday.
Of the 135,372 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.
One bit of hopeful news: the daily death toll fell to four on Monday after the state averaged 16 deaths a day over the past week tied to COVID-19, a level that hadn’t been seen since June.
The deaths reported Monday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,353. Among those who’ve died, about 70 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
Asked about possible moves to tighten business restrictions given the current surge, Walz said stores and other public settings weren’t the concern they had been earlier.
“It's just a matter of using the tools that we have in place,” he said, adding that if the pandemic continues to accelerate, he will look for other actions to slow its spread.
Caseloads rising across age groups
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.
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — nearly 30,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 16,800 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 schools and campuses completely to in-person teaching.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 12,000 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Cases surging along Minnesota’s western border
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.
Newly reported cases are highest in western Minnesota. The data don’t explain why. However, cases are surging currently in the Dakotas. North Dakota has the country’s worst per-capita spread rate.
Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.
Northern Minnesota, once the region least affected by the disease, has also seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks. Northwestern Minnesota continues to see cases rise swiftly relative to it population.
The most recent hot spots are all counties in northwestern Minnesota.
“We are seeing more deaths in greater Minnesota because we are seeing more cases there,” Ehresmann said last week. “We will see more and more deaths from greater Minnesota because of the high caseload.”
The state’s positive test rate remains significantly above the 5 percent threshold that officials find concerning.
Ehresmann and Malcolm tied the recent steep rise in cases and deaths to “COVID fatigue” but also described people who are ill but refuse to get tested because they don't want to admit they have it and don't quarantine as a contributing factor in spreading the disease.
Latino, Indigenous cases jump
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.
Similar trends hold true for Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people have jumped in October relative to population. The number of new COVID-19 cases among Native Americans has grown by about 75 percent in recent weeks.
October data also 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.
Developments around the state
More free testing scheduled in Minnesota communities
As Minnesota continues to see more than 1,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases a day, state health officials have scheduled another round of free testing sites this week.
Free testing will take place Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Little Falls, Red Wing and Waconia, as well as Tuesday in Tyler, Thursday in Madison and Thursday and Friday in St. Paul.
Find more details — and schedule an appointment — on the Minnesota Department of Health website.
Officials said the free testing sites are targeted to areas with COVID-19 outbreaks, or barriers to accessing existing test sites.
Free saliva testing sites are now open in Duluth, Winona, Moorhead, Brooklyn Park and Mankato. Find more information here.
— MPR News Staff
Anoka-Hennepin district moving middle, high schools to distance learning
As school districts across Minnesota continue to monitor the latest COVID-19 trends, the state's largest district is among those changing its learning model.
The Anoka-Hennepin district announced Friday that its middle schools and high schools will move to distance learning starting Nov. 4, in response to local COVID-19 data. Elementary schools will remain in the hybrid learning model.
Those formats will remain in effect for at least a month.
The move to distance learning means high school activities and athletics will be canceled for the rest of the trimester in the Anoka-Hennepin district.
Schools across Minnesota are getting data and guidance from the state Health Department to help decide whether to have in-person learning, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two — and whether to adjust those models as the pandemic continues.
— MPR News Staff
Minn. nursing homes in rural areas see staff shortages worsen with COVID-19: Facilities caring for older adults are struggling with low staffing levels, as COVID-19 makes an ongoing problem even worse. Nursing home operators say they’re scrambling to make sure they have enough nurses and others to ensure the safety and well-being of residents.
Several types of COVID tests are available in Minnesota. What you need to know: Here’s a breakdown of the kinds of tests available in the state, when you should seek one out — and what happens next.
Are we entering the darkest weeks of the pandemic?: Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm and Dr. Paul Offit took listener questions on why COVID-19 may surge this winter and how we can still slow its spread. Plus, a vaccine update.
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.