Dec. 11 update on COVID-19 in MN: Death count jumps; new caseloads slow

A sign on the floor reads "Stay 6 feet from others."
A sign, photographed on Nov. 23, encourages people to social distance as they enter the COVID-19 saliva testing site at Ridgeview Elementary School in Bloomington, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Updated 3 p.m.

Minnesota officials on Friday reported another 94 COVID-19 deaths, extending an already awful December — 699 deaths posted in the first 11 days, atop more than 1,100 deaths recorded in November.

Friday’s toll marked the second highest single-day count in the pandemic and pushed the seven-day trend of reported deaths to a new high.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

Those grim numbers were offset somewhat by the fact that new daily caseloads and hospital admissions continue to slow after spiking in November and early December. The Health Department posted 3,773 newly confirmed or probable cases on Friday.

New hospital admissions remain down from last week’s record, although hospitalizations remain relatively high — 1,461 people remain in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Thursday, with 343 needing intensive care.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

‘Still at a very vulnerable place’

Minnesota officials continue to anticipate a wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations originating from Thanksgiving holiday celebrations.

It hasn’t happened yet, though. Because of that, health leaders are 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.

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Gov. Tim Walz echoed that hope on Friday, noting the slowing case counts as well as a recent decline in positive test rates, a key metric in judging the spread of the disease.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm urged caution, though, saying it was still too soon to judge whether a Thanksgiving surge was coming. While the state’s caseloads have eased, “we are still at a very vulnerable place,” she told reporters.

Walz must still decide whether to extend the state’s current monthlong ban on in-person bar and restaurant service, which is set to run through Dec. 18.

While a decision had been expected Monday, a Walz spokesperson said Friday that the governor has now pushed it back until Wednesday because he wants the most up-to-date data before deciding.

COVID now tied to 1 in 3 Minnesota deaths

The newest numbers put Minnesota’s total of confirmed or probable cases at 370,968 to date. In about 88 percent of those cases, people have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The deaths reported Friday raised Minnesota’s count to 4,292. Among those who’ve died, about two-thirds had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

Minnesota’s daily death counts from COVID-19 have been especially hard to handle. More than 1,800 deaths have been reported since Nov. 1. That’s about 43 percent of all the deaths so far in the pandemic, recorded in the past six weeks.

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.

Minnesota deaths due 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.

Minnesota deaths due to respiratory 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 — more than 71,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 38,000 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 about 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 western 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.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

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.

Hot spots continue to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.

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 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.

‘A problem for all of us’

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.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

“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.

Lawmakers eye $216M to aid businesses

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.

Birchwood Cafe owner Tracy Singleton offers perspective on businesses hurting from COVID-19

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 through Dec. 18.

Walz on Friday implored lawmakers to finish a package to pass on Monday.

Developments around the state

Court orders East Grand Forks bar to close

A court Friday ordered the East Grand Forks, Minn., bar that defied Gov. Tim Walz's executive order and opened to in-person service to close. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that the Polk County District Court issued a temporary restraining order.

The Boardwalk Bar and Grill reopened Wednesday. Owner Jane Moss said her business would go under if she could not serve patrons in person.

Ellison said he had the authority to seek court action because of a peacetime emergency. He said the bar is in an area experiencing particularly high levels of COVID-19 community spread.

In a statement, the attorney general said he was “grateful” for the court’s quick action “because lives are at stake.”

Judge Corey Harbott found “there was good cause to believe” the temporary injunction would serve the purpose of the governor’s executive order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, as well as “protect the public’s health as well as the health and safety of defendant’s patrons by temporarily closing Boardwalk for on-premises dining.”

Moss served crowds of customers from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. 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 through Dec. 18.

— Nancy Lebens and John Enger | MPR News

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

Top headlines

What's in Santa's bag? Masks, plexiglass and Zoom: With surging COVID-19 cases nationwide and new restrictions in place throughout Minnesota to help curb the spread of the disease, Santa’s lap is off limits this year. That has spurred creativity in Santa's workshops.

Burnout is the new normal for hospital workers: As the weeks go by with hospitals beds full and staff in short supply, doctors and nurses are under incredible pressure. One Minnesota doctor says she’s worried it’ll lead to an exodus of providers after the pandemic ends.

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.

Minnesota lawmakers agree on help for businesses but not workers: State lawmakers say they have a partial agreement on COVID-19 relief for businesses but remain far apart on other proposals, including an extension of unemployment benefits.

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.