Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Record-tying 72 deaths; hospitalizations climb

A patient room sits empty with a large air pump through the window.
A patient room Sanford Medical Center in Bemidji that has been converted into a negative air pressure room to potentially treat patients with COVID-19. Health authorities remain concerned about another possible hospitalization jump in a few weeks following Thanksgiving holiday gatherings.
Courtesy of Sanford Health

Updated 12 p.m.

COVID-19 delivered some especially awful news Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. Minnesota officials reported 72 more deaths, tying a single-day record set last week.

The newest Health Department data showed another 6,399 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease.

More than 1,800 people are in Minnesota hospitals with COVID-19, including more than 350 needing intensive care. The numbers have leaped since Nov. 1.

New hospitalizations topped 300 for a second straight day. After a hopeful pause the past two days, the trend line for new admissions rose again to a new high.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

One positive sign Wednesday: the rate of positive tests — a key measure officials follow to judge the spread of the disease — is trending downward, although it remains far higher than the 5 percent officials find concerning.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

So, is a pandemic peak in sight? Officials say probably not.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Tuesday tamped down hopes that the current data pointed to a consistent improvement in conditions, and she noted hospital admissions remain high.

“We would not consider that we have any sort of a reliable trend just yet,” Malcolm told reporters.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

“While we’ve certainly been pleased to see somewhat lower case counts in recent days, we think that this might be another of those patterns that we’ve seen earlier in the epidemic,” she said. “Possibly we are in a trough now between waves and do not necessarily think that what we’ve seen in recent days represents the downside of a peak.”

Health authorities remain concerned about another possible hospitalization jump in a few weeks following Thanksgiving holiday gatherings where family members and friends without symptoms may unknowingly spread the virus.

Of the 289,303 confirmed or probable cases identified to date, about 83 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The deaths reported Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 3,375. More than 10 percent of those deaths have come in the past week.

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

Caseloads spread across age groups

New cases have been climbing over the past month among all age groups.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 57,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 31,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

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 23,000 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.

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 may be 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.

Walz, GOP eye aid to businesses, workers hurt by curbs

Democrats and Republicans at the Capitol seem poised to find a compromise that would help some 14,000 bars, restaurants and other hospitality businesses in Minnesota hurt by the restrictions forced by COVID-19.

Walz on Tuesday unveiled the basics of his plan to provide financial help for restaurant and bar owners and workers hurt by the current COVID-19 restrictions.

The proposal includes:

  • Direct aid to affected businesses and regulatory fee waivers for bars, restaurants, event centers, craft breweries.

  • Extending jobless benefits for 13 more weeks, a move the state said will help up to 100,000 workers whose benefits currently end next month, and a $500 one-time emergency payment to struggling families.

  • A one-time grant to restaurants to provide food for health care workers, homeless shelters and long-term care operations.

Walz said he’s ready to call another special legislative session to offer COVID-19 relief and expressed hope of reaching a compromise with GOP lawmakers. He said he was “super hopeful” a deal can been reached with Republicans in the next week or so.

Republicans posted their own package Tuesday that includes some $400 million in direct grants.

State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said swift action was critical.

“My hope would be that we can have money in their pockets within 30 days,” he told MPR News. “Knowing that it’s coming for these operators and knowing that we have relief on the way will allow them to sleep a whole lot better and to be able to communicate to their employees that life is going to get better.”

Developments around the state

U to research COVID-19 outbreaks and immigrants

A new research center at the University of Minnesota will focus on control of the COVID-19 outbreaks in immigrant communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given the U of M a $5 million grant to set up the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants and Migrants. It will work with local health departments to train providers on culturally appropriate care.

Shailey Prasad, a professor of medicine who is leading the center, said evidence shows that the virus has disproportionately affected communities of color. Many, he said, "are essential workers like farm workers or food processing plant employees and have challenges to maintain social distancing, for example, or maybe challenges in accessing health care.”

The center plans to identify barriers and help with mitigation.

— Riham Feshir | MPR News

COVID-19 causes Minnesota Gophers to cancel game with Wisconsin

The Minnesota Gophers football game against the Wisconsin Badgers won’t happen on Saturday because of COVID-19.

The University of Minnesota said it was pausing football activities after nine players and six staff members on the team tested positive since last week, and additional tests were expected to find more cases.

The pause includes canceling the trip to Madison, Wis., to play the Badgers, for the annual rivalry game that now includes a historic trophy, the giant Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The rivalry dates back to 1890, and hasn’t been interrupted since 1906. Wisconsin has won 17 of the last 20 games.

The Gophers are hoping to contain the outbreak on the football team in time to play Northwestern Dec. 5.

Wisconsin has already had games against Purdue and Nebraska canceled. Big Ten teams are playing only eight conference games in a season shortened by the pandemic.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Minnesota federal courts suspend in-person hearings

Yet more official business is going dark because of COVID-19 as federal courts in Minnesota are canceling all in-person hearings through the end of January.

An order issued by District of Minnesota Chief Judge John Tunheim says work should shift to video conferencing or telephone hearings if necessary. Also no new jury proceedings can start before February.

The courts have also closed the public service counters at federal courthouses.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Minnesota seeks state workers to volunteer in long-term care

The state of Minnesota plans to seek volunteers among its employees to work in long-term care and assisted living facilities.

An email sent from Minnesota Management and Budget to state agency supervisors Tuesday said the state will be seeking people who are trained as registered nurses, licensed practical nurses or certified nursing assistants to spend 14-day deployments in long-term care facilities across the state.

The email also said that no prior experience will be required to volunteer, and that the state will provide some training before deployment.

The callout addresses a sharp decline in staff at long-term care facilities who are out with COVID-19 or quarantining due to an exposure. The need is most acute in greater Minnesota.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Top headlines

COVID spread causing 'surreal' staffing problems in nursing homes: Long-term care in Minnesota is in dire need of staffing support. With COVID-19 peaking, large numbers of staff are out sick or quarantining because of exposure. The situation is forcing state officials to take unusual measures to fill gaps.

Research shows older people resilient, but stressed by COVID isolation: The pandemic has isolated many of us from friends, family and coworkers. But for older people who live alone, the loss of connection can cut even deeper. Researchers have been talking with dozens of older adults in Minnesota and North Dakota since the pandemic started, in an ongoing study of the impacts of isolation.

State prepares to roll out first rounds of COVID-19 vaccines: As two COVID-19 vaccines approach approval from the Food and Drug Administration, state officials ready their plan to distribute vaccines. They say getting most people the vaccine will be critical to snuffing out a virus that has killed thousands of Minnesotans.

COVID-19 awareness campaign targets northern Minnesota county: It took months for COVID-19 to gain a foothold in Roseau County, on Minnesota's northern border. But now the virus is spreading rapidly and this week county officials are starting a comprehensive public campaign to convince residents to take the threat seriously.

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.

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.

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