Updated 3:15 p.m.
A brutal November for COVID-19 deaths continues to spill into December, the clearest and saddest story of the current surge.
The state Health Department on Friday reported 61 more deaths along with another 5,371 newly confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases. More than 250 deaths have been reported in the first four days of December, atop more than 1,100 deaths recorded in November.
New hospital admissions continue to ebb from Tuesday’s record seven-day average, but hospitalization levels remain high. Nearly 1,700 people were in hospitals with COVID-19 as of Thursday; more than 350 needed intensive care.
The newest numbers come as officials brace for another expected wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in coming weeks originating from Thanksgiving gatherings.
The deaths reported Friday raised Minnesota’s toll to 3,845. Among those who’ve died, about 67 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
Minnesota’s now recorded 338,973 cases of the disease in the pandemic. About 86 percent of the people in those cases have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
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 65,500 since the pandemic began, including more than 35,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 26,500 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
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.
Gov. Tim 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.
Deaths continue to be highest in greater Minnesota, with per capita death rates in the western part of the state four to five times higher than in the Twin Cities metro area.
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.
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 have been seen among 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.
1 in 3 recent deaths tied to COVID
Minnesota’s daily death counts from COVID-19 have been especially hard to handle over the past two months. More than 1,100 people died in November alone, about 30 percent of the total in the entire pandemic.
It’s now killing Minnesotans at a rate far higher than any recent flu season. Roughly one-third of all recent deaths in Minnesota are tied to COVID-19.
In the past few years, respiratory illnesses have been a major contributing factor in about 5 to 10 percent of all deaths in Minnesota, depending on the time of year.
They accounted for around 20 percent of deaths during the state’s May COVID-19 wave. Now it’s even higher: nearly 40 percent of all deaths in Minnesota in recent weeks have been attributed to a respiratory illness such as COVID-19, influenza or pneumonia.
‘Challenging weeks ahead’
Public health officials have been trying to inject some hope into the difficult times. Earlier this week, they sketched out their plans to distribute vaccines as soon as they’re available. Federal vaccine approvals could start as soon as next week.
“We have been talking about the light at the end of the tunnel. It's there and it’s getting closer all the time. But we do have to stay the course a bit longer before we reach it,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Tuesday.
The short-term direction of the pandemic, however, is still unclear. Analysts have cautioned not to read too much into the most recent figures because of the long holiday weekend.
Officials continue to plead with Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if they don’t feel well and otherwise stay vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.
Walz said recently he’d likely call on Minnesotans not to travel or gather for Christmas, adding there was “little reason” to expect a change in the trajectory of the virus in the next four weeks.
‘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.
State officials for weeks have been raising concerns that health care workers are being sidelined by COVID-19, either by illness or exposure in their communities, or else having to care for loved ones.
Malcolm on Tuesday said 56 health care operations in the state have “staffing support needs … It is very definitely an ongoing challenge.”
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 Monday.
“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.’”
Gov. Walz provides a COVID-19 update:
Gov. Walz and state health officials answer reporter questions:
Developments around the state
Mayo Clinic suspending some southern MN clinic operations amid COVID
Mayo Clinic Health System says it is has temporarily suspended operations at its Belle Plaine clinic and will be temporarily suspending operations at the Mankato-Northridge, Le Sueur, Janesville and Waterville clinics as of Dec. 7.
The reason: the ongoing surge of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
“Suspensions are necessary to reallocate staff to other critical care needs in response to the COVID-19 surge,” the organization said.
The closures are expected to last six weeks. COVID-19 testing is still taking place at the Belle Plaine Clinic.
— MPR News Staff
Need housing aid? Deadline is nearing
Time is running out for cash-strapped Minnesotans to apply for housing assistance money made available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This summer, the Walz administration directed $100 million of federal aid to a housing program to help people in financial distress pay their mortgage, rent and utilities. As of this week, about $30 million remains, but there’s a Monday deadline to apply.
“We’ve got room for one more big push here to pay December bills,” said Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho who noted that the grant money has gone further than officials expected but added that they know help is still needed.
Katrina Hull of Albert Lea said it’s been critical assistance while she’s been out of work due to coronavirus fallout and she’s had to care for an elderly family member.
“Rent was still due, utilities were still due and I was in a pretty big bind,” Hull said.
Information about the program can be found by dialing 211 or going to 211unitedway.org.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News
COVID relief plan snagged on $500 payment to families: As Minnesota lawmakers work on a plan to provide businesses and workers relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a plan to provide struggling families with a one-time $500 payment has emerged as a stumbling block.
Deadline looms for Minnesotans to seek COVID-19 housing aid: Minnesota residents who have fallen behind on their rent, mortgage or utility payments amid the coronavirus pandemic should apply for state aid before a looming deadline of Monday night, Gov. Tim Walz and other officials urged Thursday.
COVID-19 claims life of Hmong American leader and Secret War veteran: Tou-Fu Vang, a Hmong community leader and former lieutenant colonel in the Secret War, died on Thanksgiving Day after several weeks in the hospital fighting COVID-19.
MN Court of Appeals allows high school students to receive pandemic unemployment assistance: According to court documents, a previous ruling was reversed Tuesday, allowing qualified high school students to receive assistance through the current CARES Act.
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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