Updated: 4 p.m.
Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 data delivered equal parts sadness and hope on Thursday.
State health officials reported 89 more deaths, one of the highest single-day counts in the pandemic.
More than 600 deaths have been reported in the first 10 days of December, atop more than 1,100 deaths recorded in November, making it one of the deadliest stretches in the pandemic.
At the same time, new daily caseloads continue to slow significantly after spiking in November and the start of December. The Health Department posted 3,523 newly confirmed or probable cases on Thursday.
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New hospital admissions also continue to retreat from last week’s record, although hospitalizations remain relatively high — more than 1,500 people remain in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with more than 350 needing intensive care.
The rate of tests coming back positive — a closely watched metric that reflects the level of community spread of the virus — is also moderating.
The most recent seven-day average rate is just under 10 percent now, significantly lower than two weeks ago, although officials find 5 percent or greater concerning.
‘A problem for all of us’
Thursday’s numbers put Minnesota’s total of confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases at 367,218 to date. In about 88 percent of those cases, people have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The deaths reported Thursday raised Minnesota’s count to 4,198. Among those who’ve died, about two-thirds had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
State health officials on Thursday noted that several of the newly reported deaths included people in their 20s, 40s and 50s, emphasizing the disease isn’t simply focused on the very old.
“This is not just a problem for the elderly, for our fellow Minnesotans who have medical conditions. It is a problem for all of us,” state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield told reporters.
“Until we have safe and effective vaccines, we really need to do everything we can to stop transmission between fellow Minnesotans,” she added. “We know this is hard. It is taking a big toll on so many areas of our lives. But we have to hang in there and we have to do the best we can.”
Part of the challenge is that many people infected with COVID-19 do not have symptoms but are still spreading it. Lynfield said it’s estimated that about half of the spread of the disease is coming from people who are not showing signs of illness.
Caseloads spread across age groups
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — nearly 71,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 38,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with nearly 29,000 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.
New caseloads ebb in rural Minnesota
Central and northern Minnesota drove much of the increase in new cases over the past five weeks, while Hennepin and Ramsey counties showed some of the slowest case growth in the state.
After a spike in confirmed cases through much of November, all regions of the state have seen new case numbers plateau or start to fall in recent days. Hard-hit northwestern Minnesota may soon have fewer new cases per capita than the metro.
Hot spots continue to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.
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.
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.
Minnesota officials are still expecting another wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations originating from Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. They anticipated seeing those numbers begin to rise this week — but it hasn’t happened yet.
That’s led key public health leaders to express at least some measured optimism that the coming surge won’t be as bad as they thought.
On Wednesday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said she was somewhat hopeful that many families heeded public pleas to not gather in big groups for Thanksgiving, and so the worst-case scenarios of a post-holiday surge might not materialize.
That doesn’t mean, though, that a surge isn’t coming. Minnesota is likely to hit 400,000 cases “in the next week or so” Malcolm told reporters. The state passed 300,000 cases less than two weeks ago.
Gov. Tim Walz has urged Minnesotans to “hang on,” noting that vaccinations here could begin by Christmas.
Partial deal at Capitol for aid to businesses hurt by COVID-19 rules
Minnesota lawmakers say they have a partial deal on COVID-19 relief, with $216 million for businesses.
Other aspects for workers and families, including an extension of unemployment benefits, remain up in the air ahead of Monday's special session.
No final agreement is in place. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, wrote on Twitter that there would be “no deal without help for Minnesota workers.”
Still, news of a partial agreement offered some movement toward a package that DFLers and Republicans say is needed heading into Monday’s legislative session.
Lawmakers have been working on a plan intended to help some 14,000 bars, restaurants and other hospitality businesses in Minnesota hurt by the restrictions forced by COVID-19. That includes a monthlong ban on in-person bar and restaurant service set to run until Dec. 18.
The governor had been expected to say this week whether he’ll extend that ban beyond Dec. 18, although an announcement is now expected Monday.
Developments around the state
Parents sue Walz to lift 'pause' on youth sports over virus
A parents group has filed suit against the state, looking to lift a ban on youth sports put in place by Gov. Tim Walz last month because of COVID-19.
Let Them Play was founded by a football mom in the city of Dassel, Minn., and has been joined by thousands of parents of school and youth athletes. The suit filed in federal court says youth sports shutdowns ordered by the governor in a Nov. 18 order were arbitrary and irrational and not based on science.
Sam Diehl, attorney representing the group, which includes some athletes as plaintiffs, said the data doesn't show COVID-19 is a hazard for youth sports participants — although state officials have said that. He added that shutdowns don't work.
“If you shut down sports, kids don't disappear. Kids are going to have to go somewhere,” Diehl said.
Diehl said he hopes the shutdown ends as planned next week, but that he suspects Walz will extend the shutdown in an announcement planned for Monday.
— Tim Nelson | MPR News
Black churches, Mayo Clinic team up against COVID
Mayo Clinic has partnered with more than 100 Black churches in Rochester, Minn. and the Twin Cities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The partnership expands on a previous effort to educate the community about cardiovascular health. Doctors have been providing culturally relevant information using faith leaders as trusted sources.
Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist and health disparities researcher, says inequities in the African American community stem from access to quality health care and other socioeconomic factors that put Blacks at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
"The Black church has been the center piece and it is the institutional backbone of the African American community," Brewer said. "So it's a natural fit that we would work with a trusted institution within the African American community towards emergency preparedness and towards COVID-19 prevention."
Brewer says the group also plans provide information on the COVID-19 vaccine as it is starting to become available.
— Riham Feshir | MPR News
East Grand Forks bar owner defies MN COVID ban
A bar owner in East Grand Forks, Minn., is ignoring an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz by reopening her business.
Jane Moss assembled her staff and opened the doors of the Boardwalk Bar and Grill Wednesday afternoon, saying the business was likely to go under if it remained closed.
She served crowds of customers from 4 to 11. Aside from a pair of what Moss described as very polite police officers — who brought her a copy of the state’s COVID-19 regulations but took no enforcement action — she said it was a fantastic day.
“We had wonderful, in fact overwhelming support from our community. It felt normal, it felt wonderful," Moss said.
Minnesota’s monthlong shutdown of in-person bar and restaurant service is set to run until Dec. 18. It’s been especially maddening in East Grand Forks. Just across the Red River in North Dakota, businesses are largely open.
"They have a mask mandate right now, but that downtown area is a lot of bars and local restaurants, so you do watch your patrons drive across the river," Moss said.
She could lose her licenses and face large fines, but she said she’ll stay open as long as she can, although she's unsure how long she'll be able to stay open.
— John Enger | MPR News
Report: Pandemic takes toll on Minnesota child care providers
A new report finds almost half of Minnesota child care providers are currently losing money amid the pandemic.
The report from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, surveyed child care providers in the middle and end of November.
It found that over half of respondents were using their personal credit cards of savings accounts to purchase needed supplies. Nine in 10 have had to purchase additional cleaning supplies and over half have had to hire additional staff.
Forty-five percent were faced with so much uncertainty that they were unable to say how much longer they will be able to stay open. Of those providers who do know what their futures hold, nearly 1 in 5 say they will have to close within three months if enrollment stays where it is and they don’t receive more public support.
— Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News
ACLU sues Waseca federal women’s prison over COVID-19 response: The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a lawsuit on behalf of 14 women incarcerated at Waseca, where almost 450 people have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
What you need to know as Minnesota prepares for a COVID-19 vaccine: Minnesotans could begin to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in a couple of weeks. Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first to receive it. Here’s what you need to know about the vaccine and Minnesota’s distribution plan.
Penalties rare for ignoring COVID-19 precautions: Safety protocols ordered by Gov. Tim Walz allow for noncompliance penalties, but they appear to be rare. Health officials say education is a better approach than punishment to get people to follow COVID-19 safety measures.
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.