Updated: 8:30 p.m.
Minnesota’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic climbed past 4,400 on Sunday, with state health officials reporting more than 80 deaths on four of the past five days.
That includes the 85 additional COVID-19 deaths reported Sunday, as the daily average over the past week climbed to nearly 66, a record high.
The grim death toll continues as the number of new cases and hospital admissions each day continues to trend downward. The average test positivity rate over the past week also dropped, to below 9 percent — the first time that’s happened since October.
Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:
4,444 deaths (85 new)
378,823 positive cases (3,439 newly reported); 341,530 off isolation (about 90 percent)
4.89 million tests, 2.76 million people tested (about 48 percent of the population)
8.9 percent seven-day positive test rate (officials find 5 percent or more concerning)
The average number of new cases reported each day over the past week is about 4,014 — the lowest that number has been since the first week of November. It peaked at more than 7,100 in late November.
The average number of new COVID-related hospital admissions each day over the past week dropped below 190 on Sunday — the first time that’s happened in a month.
‘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.
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 soon 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-19 now tied to 1 in 3 Minnesota deaths
The newest numbers put Minnesota’s total of confirmed or probable cases at more than 378,000 to date. In about 90 percent of those cases, people have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.
The deaths reported Saturday raised Minnesota’s count to 4,359. Among those who’ve died, about two-thirds had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
COVID-19 is 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.
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 72,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 39,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 26,000 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.
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.
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.
‘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.
“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.”
Developments around the state
State suspends liquor license for bar that continued in-person service
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety on Sunday suspended the liquor license of an East Grand Forks, Minn., bar that had been operating in violation of state COVID-19 restrictions.
The Boardwalk Bar and Grill reopened to in-person service last week. Owner Jane Moss said her business would go under if she could not serve patrons in person.
The 60-day liquor license suspension announced Sunday is set to expire in February; another violation could result in a five-year license revocation.
The action follows a temporary restraining order issued Friday by a Polk County District Court judge, ordering the bar to close to in-person service.
Minnesota’s monthlong shutdown of in-person bar and restaurant service, along with youth sports and other activities, is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday. Gov. Tim Walz has not yet said whether he'll extend the restrictions.
Representatives of a group called the Reopen Minnesota Coalition told KARE-TV on Friday that dozens of businesses plan to defy the governor's order in the coming week.
— MPR News staff
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.
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.
Your support matters.
You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.