Nov. 23 update on COVID-19 in MN: Walz readies new package to aid businesses hurt by curbs

Sandwich board sign outside of two doors
A new COVID-19 testing site opened Nov. 9 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Kathryn Styer Martinez | MPR News file

Updated 2:35 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he’s pulling together a COVID-19 relief package intended to aid bar and restaurant owners and workers hurt by the current ban on in-person service, and that he was prepared to call the Legislature back quickly to pass it.

The plan will include sales tax forgiveness for businesses that sell food and beverage along with a waiver of state regulatory fees.

He didn’t put a dollar figure to the cost, but he called the need to aid those businesses and workers “absolutely critical.” He said he’ll publish the plan on Tuesday and he expressed hope of reaching a compromise with GOP lawmakers.

The current restrictions on bars, restaurants and other public gathering spaces is set to run until Dec. 18. Walz has previously said the state would make available some $10 million in small business relief that would help bars and restaurants stay afloat.

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Deaths, cases, hospitalizations climb

Walz’s remarks came hours after the latest Health Department data showed Minnesota’s COVID-19 surge continuing to grind, with officials reporting 24 more deaths and 6,353 newly confirmed or probable cases. Hospitalizations continued to rise.

One bit of hopeful news: New cases and the positive test rate continued their trend downward of the last few days, an indication the peak of the current surge may be in sight.

Otherwise, current conditions remain severe across the state.

The trend lines for deaths and hospitalizations continue to climb. Officials remain concerned that another wave is likely if Minnesotans don’t abide by health experts' pleas to call off Thanksgiving gatherings.

The newest numbers follow a weekend where the state Health Department reported more than 13,000 new COVID-19 cases and 91 more deaths.

Given the trend lines, Minnesota could reach 300,000 total cases this week and another 100,000 cases in the next 15 days, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Although new hospital admissions have flattened somewhat in the past week, nearly 1,800 people are in Minnesota hospitals with COVID-19 as of Monday, with about 20 percent needing intensive care. The number of hospitalizations has more than doubled since Nov. 1.

Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler told MPR News Monday that intensive care beds in Allina hospitals were full over the weekend and while there are enough medical supplies and beds for now, staffing is critically short.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Of the 276,500 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota identified to date, about 82 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The deaths reported Monday raised Minnesota’s toll to 3,265. Among those who’ve died, about 68 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

Also on Monday, officials rolled out a new smart phone application that will alert users to potential exposure to COVID-19 based on technology designed to keep personal information private.

Caseloads spread across age groups

New cases have been spiking over the past three weeks 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 55,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 30,000 among people ages 20 to 24. The rapid increase, however, has tapered off in recent days.

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

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with nearly 22,000 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

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

Although 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.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.

Walz said recently the state has data showing infection rates rising around bar and restaurant activity after 9 p.m. among young adults, noting that people who have the virus but don’t have symptoms are unwittingly spreading it.

Virus surges across rural Minnesota

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.

The fastest growing outbreaks remain largely along the state’s western border with the Dakotas, where the virus is spreading unchecked. But new cases are rising everywhere in Minnesota.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Collectively, rural areas continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases per capita.

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

Latino cases climb

In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths. That’s been especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent for much of the pandemic.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by race

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

Similar trends hold true for Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.

Cases among all races and ethnicities continue to rise, although currently the growth is slowest among Black Minnesotans, who reported the most new COVID-19 cases per capita for much of the spring and summer.

Developments around the state

Mayo Clinic seeks people interested in participating in vaccine trials

Mayo Clinic said Monday it’s launched a COVID-19 registry that will identify people interested in participating in upcoming COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

People who add their name to the registry may be contacted in the future to determine if they are eligible to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine trial at Mayo Clinic.

People can enroll in the COVID-19 Vaccine Registry by completing this vaccine registry form or calling the COVID-19 vaccine registry at 507-293-3383.

— MPR News Staff

Allina CEO: ICU beds full, ‘no sign of letup’ as COVID cases surge

Minnesota reported record levels of COVID- 19 testing and a pause in the rapid rise of new cases over the weekend, but health providers say they’re still struggling with the pressure of existing illnesses.

Allina CEO Penny Wheeler talks with MPR News host Phil Picardi
by MPR News

Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler says there’s no sign of letup in hospitals around the state, including Allina’s.

Wheeler said the ICU beds in Allina Health hospitals were full over the weekend. There are enough medical supplies and beds for now, she said, but staffing is critically short, as Allina workers have to stay home because of COVID-19. Wheeler said many of them are doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other front line workers.

“Close to 800 [employees] are sidelined and it's almost all still through community spread that they're either being exposed to the virus and are testing positive for the virus themselves,” she told MPR News on Monday.

Wheeler said the peak of hospital admissions has been following peaks in case numbers by about 12 days, so hospitals are likely to remain full and concentrated on caring for COVID-19 patients through the Thanksgiving holiday. Allina is continuing to monitor nonemergency procedures, trying to balance COVID-19 cases with other necessary medical care, she added.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Free COVID testing site opens in Bloomington

The state is adding another COVID-19 testing site to its roster, this one in Bloomington.

The site opens Monday at Ridgeview Elementary, where people can get coronavirus tests at no cost even if they don't have insurance or symptoms.

The Bloomington site is among more than two dozen the state is operating around Minnesota where people can get nasal swab tests or saliva tests to see if they are carrying the virus. That's in addition to a saliva test people can now do in their homes at no cost through a mail-order service.

The state is advising college students to seek testing before they head home for the holidays and isolate until they get a result and leave for travel.

But officials warn that a single negative test does not mean you don't have the virus.

Dr. William Morice, president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, says there is no single test for COVID-19 that is 100 percent accurate.

"So unfortunately, while a negative test might give you some reassurance that you don’t have the virus, it can’t be used to consider yourself scot-free, if you will, or free and clear of the virus,” he said.

A negative test result might give people some measure of security, but they should still wear masks and practice social distancing to prevent spreading the virus, Morice said.

— Catharine Richert and Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Most tribal casinos opt to stay open

As restrictions on bars and restaurants takes effect in Minnesota, most tribal casinos are staying open.

Last spring when Gov. Tim Walz closed bars and restaurants, Tribal casinos across Minnesota also closed, cutting off a primary revenue source for tribal governments.

Now, casinos are staying open, with restrictions. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community said in a statement that as a sovereign tribal nation it made the decision to keep it's casinos open while following comprehensive health and safety plans. Other tribal casinos have posted similar statements.

Some dine in restaurants are closed, masks are required and many casinos are checking temperatures as people arrive.

Many tribal communities are experiencing significant increases in COVID-19 cases.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

COVID curbs courts’ work across Minnesota

New Minnesota court restrictions will limit criminal trials and courthouse service access as the judicial branch responds to an acceleration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Judicial Council voted unanimously Thursday put the freeze on in-person jury trials that will take effect on Nov. 30. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea plans to formalize the pause in an order coming Friday.

Todd County Judge Jay Carlson, vice chair of the council, made the motion to halt new trials. “Other than new trials that are currently in progress we’re not going to commence any new trials until February unless the chief judge again in consultation with the chief justice has granted a specific exception for a criminal jury trial to commence,” he said.

Exceptions will be made for in-custody defendants or other defendants that made a speedy trial demand prior to the order. Some grand jury proceedings will also be suspended.

Judges on the council said that staff and jurors have become more reluctant to come into court buildings as COVID-19 spreads rapidly.

During the pandemic, the court system has pushed many of its proceedings into virtual settings, including motions hearings in some criminal and civil cases.

The courts also are expected to limit walkup counter service in government buildings, urging people to either make appointments or use virtual methods where possible. But each county will retain at least one public service counter with daily hours.

“I think we should all just send good vibes out into the universe for a vaccine very, very soon,” said Judge Krista Martin of Pine County.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Top headlines

Lawmakers look for ways to help businesses, workers: With another round of COVID-19 restrictions taking effect late Friday, Minnesota lawmakers are looking for ways to help small businesses that might be forced to close and the employees who would be put out of work. Discussions are already underway about what the state can do and when it could happen.

COVID-19 brings opera singer home to the farm: The pandemic is forcing many people to change how and where they work. For one Minnesota-born opera singer, the COVID-19 threat meant a return to her roots and a surprising revitalization.

A guide to navigating your virtual Thanksgiving: With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Minnesota, many families are planning to swap their traditional in-person Thanksgivings for virtual celebrations. But how will that work? We provide some tips for families to keep their video calls on track, along with a collection of activities to keep everyone entertained.

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.