Nov. 30 update on COVID-19 in MN: Walz expects no-gather guidance for Christmas

Sandwich board sign outside of two doors
A new COVID-19 testing site that opened Nov. 9 at the Minneapolis Convention Center will administer saliva tests, free of charge to all Minnesotans.
Kathryn Styer Martinez | MPR News file

Updated: 4 p.m.

As public health authorities brace for a jump in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in coming weeks originating from Thanksgiving celebrations, Gov. Tim Walz says he’ll likely call on Minnesotans not to travel or gather for Christmas.

“I think the guidance around Thanksgiving is going to be very similar around Christmas,” he told reporters Monday, adding there was “little reason” to expect a change in the trajectory of the virus in the next four weeks.

Health leaders prior to Thanksgiving pleaded with people not to celebrate outside their immediate family households, warning that larger gatherings could lead to family members and friends without symptoms unknowingly spreading the virus to loved ones.

It’s not clear how closely those recommendations were followed.

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“We are still in a very critical spot in this pandemic in Minnesota. This is the worst spot we’ve been in since March. That’s what the data tell us,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday, comparing the state’s current conditions to prior surges in New York, Florida, Arizona and other past hot spots. “We are a hot spot.”

Minnesota’s total in the pandemic, now approaching 319,000 cases, could reach 400,000 “in the next couple of weeks or so,” she added.

New COVID-19 cases in Minnesota by sample date

Walz and Malcolm again implored people to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Malcolm said she was grateful for families that heeded the state's call to refrain from gathering outside their households.

For those who did gather, Malcolm urged they track any symptoms and consider getting a test five to seven days after the gathering to detect any spread “so that people can isolate and quarantine as appropriate.”

Mixed bag of data

Minnesota’s COVID-19 report on Monday offered a mixed bag of statistics that make the post-Thanksgiving landscape difficult to map. The number of newly confirmed or probable cases — 5,801 — was down from a week earlier, but so was testing.

The state Health Department reported 15 deaths, the lowest daily count reported in the past two weeks. Still, it raised the toll to 1,136 deaths reported during November — nearly one-third of all the deaths tied to COVID-19 in the pandemic.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

New hospital admissions have trended down the past couple of days after peaking on Saturday, although hospitalizations are still high. More than 1,800 people are in Minnesota hospitals because of COVID-19 with nearly 400 needing intensive care. The numbers have leaped since Nov. 1.

The positive test rate — a key metric watched closely by officials — has been trending down in recent days, suggesting that the spread of the disease may be ebbing from its recent peak. Still the seven-day rate is at 10.5 percent, twice the 5 percent rate officials find concerning.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

The newest numbers follow a long holiday weekend when Minnesota health officials reported more than 23,000 new COVID-19 cases and 203 deaths. Officials cautioned not to read deeply into any single day of data.

Of the 318,763 confirmed or probable cases identified to date, about 86 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

The deaths reported Monday raised Minnesota’s toll to 3,593. Among those who’ve died, about 67 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

Walz and Malcolm on Monday called on Minnesotans to stay vigilant against COVID-19, cautioning people not to read too much into bits of recent data suggesting some relief from the fall surge.

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 62,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 33,600 among people ages 20 to 24.

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with nearly 25,000 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

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.

It’s one of the reasons he’s ordered a ban on in-person service at bars and restaurants until Dec. 18.

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.

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

‘The honest, horrible truth’

State health systems are straining to staff hospital beds as COVID-19 cases grow and doctors, nurses and other care workers struggle to cope with illness among their own families and colleagues.

Malcolm on Monday afternoon highlighted the concerns that health care workers are being sidelined by COVID-19, either by illness or exposure in their communities.

The public needs to know the state’s health system is under serious stress, Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, president of Carris Health in western Minnesota, told MPR News early Monday, prior to Malcolm’s remarks.

“We have to tell it like it is. We have to give people the honest, horrible truth of what we're facing,” she said. “We have to tell them, ‘If you don't do it — if you, the public, don't do what you can do — we can't save you because there are only so many people to take care of people out there.’”

Developments around the state

Gophers-Northwestern game canceled over COVID

The University of Minnesota has canceled its Saturday Big 10 football game with Northwestern University due to COVID-19.

The game will not be rescheduled and will be ruled a no contest, per Big Ten policy this season, the U said in a statement Monday, adding it still hopes to play a game at the University of Nebraska on Dec. 12. The U canceled its game at Wisconsin last week.

Since Nov. 19, the Gophers football program has recorded 47 positive cases, which includes 21 student-athletes and 26 staff members, the university athletics department said.

— MPR News Staff

COVID-positive inmate in Rush City prison dies

An inmate at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City has died after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The Department of Corrections reported Sunday that the 57-year-old man died late Saturday at a St. Paul hospital. It's the fifth COVID-related death of a Minnesota state prison inmate during the pandemic — and the first from the Rush City facility.

The man’s name has not been released.

Officials said Sunday that the Rush City prison has 49 inmates and 21 staff members with active COVID-19 cases. More than 150 other inmates at the facility have tested positive and recovered, according to data on the department's website. The facility houses about 900 inmates.

Two inmates from other prison facilities are in critical condition and being treated on ventilators at hospitals due to COVID-19, the department said Sunday. Several Department of Corrections employees also are hospitalized.

The department said it has "conducted comprehensive testing of all incarcerated people and staff in our facilities," and taken other steps to prevent and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

— MPR News Staff

More U football players, staff test positive for COVID

The University of Minnesota football program announced Saturday evening that 15 more people with the team have tested positive for COVID-19.

That includes eight athletes and seven staff members. It brings the total number of football players and staff who've tested positive since Nov. 19 to 40 — 20 athletes and 20 staff members.

The football program paused all team-related activities last week, including canceling Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.

Minnesota is scheduled to host Northwestern Dec. 5. Gophers officials said they'll give an update on the team's status on Tuesday.

— MPR News Staff

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 co-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 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.