Updated: 3:26 p.m.
Another day, another set of grim records broken in Minnesota’s COVID-19 pandemic.
The Health Department Wednesday reported 3,844 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease — a new one-day high, breaking the prior record set Tuesday following a succession of new highs in the past week.
Some 900 people are in Minnesota hospital beds now due to COVID-19, with more than 200 needing intensive care, both near record highs; 31 more people died.
The seven-day average now is over 3,000 newly reported cases per day, twice what it was two weeks ago. Minnesotans should brace themselves to see 4,000 cases a day in the near future, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Wednesday.
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“What’s happening now in Minnesota is disheartening and alarming,” she said, comparing the spread to a wildfire. “It feels like we’re losing ground. We’re falling behind the rapid spread of this virus.”
She again implored Minnesotans to take more responsibility to stem the spread by wearing masks in public gathering spaces, socially distancing and staying home if you don’t feel well.
“Gathering in a group of people is risky right now,” she said.
Casual gatherings driving spread
The newest numbers continue to show rampant spread across Minnesota, not limited to just one region or demographic group. like earlier in the pandemic.
It’s being driven now by Minnesotans’ informal gatherings and get-togethers with family and friends where it’s spread unknowingly by people who have the virus but do not have symptoms, officials say.
Wednesday’s data showed another record of active confirmed cases, more than 20,000.
Hospital capacity is tight as cases grow. Intensive care beds in the Twin Cities metro area are now at about 98 percent capacity; statewide, it’s a little less, state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said Wednesday.
Of the 160,923 cases of the disease confirmed in the pandemic to date, about 85 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The deaths reported Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,530. Among those who’ve died, about 70 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
‘Minnesota is in a bad spot’
The overall numbers continue to paint a troubling picture of a rapidly worsening pandemic in Minnesota.
Caseloads have skyrocketed over the past few weeks, bringing a surge of hospitalizations and deaths.
State authorities had worried that late summer and early fall gatherings, sporting events and informal get-togethers would drive an October surge as Minnesotans let down their guard against the virus. That happened, and it’s now spilling into November.
“Minnesota is in a bad spot … and it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Ehresmann told reporters Monday as she implored Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to stem the spread.
The state’s positive test rate trend is running at 12.3 percent over the past week, nearly three times higher than a month ago.
While more testing is uncovering more cases, “it’s not the testing that’s the problem,” Ehresmann said. “It’s the sheer fact that we have so much virus circulating in our state.”
Caseloads rising across age groups
New cases are up dramatically over the past month in all age groups.
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 34,000 since the pandemic began, including 18,999 among people ages 20-24.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 13,500 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Those numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about teens and 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. It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
Virus surges along Minnesota’s western border
Regionally, central and northern 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 have been highest in northwestern Minnesota. Cases are surging currently in the Dakotas. North Dakota and South Dakota have the country’s worst per-capita spread rates.
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.
Latino, Indigenous cases jump
In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths.
That’s especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent. 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 jumped in October relative to population.
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.
‘Incredibly high level of community spread’
Minnesota’s problems are multiplying amid record outbreaks among its neighbors to the east and west. An explosion of cases that turned October into one of Minnesota’s worst months in the pandemic is spilling over into November.
Health investigators, she added, are increasingly finding people with COVID-19 reluctant to provide details that would help trace the disease’s path. “This just accelerates the spread that were seeing even more,” she said.
“If we’re wondering what somebody else is going to do to fix this COVID problem, we’re missing the point,” Malcolm said Monday.
The rampant spread is being driven now by the “thousands of seemingly small decisions” Minnesotans make daily to meet and gather with others without wearing masks, socially distancing or taking other steps to stem the spread, Malcolm told reporters last week.
She reiterated that Monday, noting that cases among health care workers are growing rapidly. They’re getting exposed in the community and bringing it into their health care workplaces.
“It’s not just one or two big notable events that’s causing this incredibly high level of community spread. It's a happy hour with a couple of friends, brunch on the weekends. It’s the weddings,” Malcolm said of the casual interactions now creating big problems. “These are the scenarios driving spread."
Developments around the state
Officials urge COVID precautions during deer opener
With Minnesota’s deer hunting season set to open Saturday, state health officials are urging hunters to take precautions against contracting or spreading COVID-19.
“If you're hunting with people outside your immediate household, please mask up while indoors,” including inside buildings at deer camps, “and keep a distance of 6 feet all times inside and out,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday.
She urged hunters to stay home if they don’t feel well.
— MPR News Staff
MN opens saliva testing sites to Wisconsinites
As COVID-19 cases surge to the east, Gov. Tim Walz has opened saliva testing sites in St. Paul, Winona and Duluth to people living in Wisconsin, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Minnesota is investing at least $14 million of its federal CARES Act funding into saliva coronavirus testing, a process developed at Rutgers University and marketed by Vault Health.
Public health officials say it's a relatively easy and fast way to test more people for the virus.
Some of the Minnesota's CARES Act funding will go to covering the cost of the test, and Minnesota is working out an agreement to make sure Wisconsin covers the cost of the test for its residents.
— Catharine Richert | MPR News
More free testing set for Minnesota communities
Minnesota health officials have scheduled another round of free COVID-19 testing sites this week in communities around the state.
The free nasal swab tests will be offered Wednesday and Thursday in Burnsville, Fergus Falls, Mora and Pipestone.
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, Mankato, St. Cloud and St. Paul. Find more information here.
— MPR News Staff
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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.