COVID-19 in MN: School cases accelerating as latest wave grinds higher

A teacher instructs his socially distant classroom.
In September 2020, second grade teacher Thad Thumbleson gives his students a lesson on the meaning of having character in his socially distant classroom at Wildwood Elementary in Stillwater, Minn.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

3 things to know:

  • 2,736 newly confirmed or probable cases (includes nearly 650 backlogged cases)

  • 13,485 known, active cases; 718 currently hospitalized

  • 72.6 percent of 16-and-older residents with at least one vaccine dose

Updated 3:45 p.m.

Reports of COVID-19 in Minnesota schools are growing rapidly, and state public health officials believe those counts will accelerate in the coming weeks.

Minnesota went from receiving reports of about 150 cases a day in schools last week — the first week of school for many districts — to more than 600 on Monday and 500 on Tuesday, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist, told reporters Wednesday.

“This is on the way up,” she said. “We do expect it’s going to continue to rise over the next few weeks.”

While backlogged cases and messy data from the Labor Day weekend make it hard to draw broad conclusions about the pandemic's path, officials remain worried about a potential spike stemming from the new school year, Labor Day gatherings and the Minnesota State Fair.

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The state has confirmed 153 cases “directly tied” to the fair, including four hospitalizations, said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Another 33 Minnesota cases are linked to the massive motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, S.D.

The counts from the State Fair and Sturgis are a significant underestimate” of the spread connected to those events because “we are not reaching most people and many people are not disclosing everywhere they’ve been,” Lynfield added.

The Minnesota Health Department on Wednesday reported 2,736 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease, but nearly 650 of those were months old, uncovered as part of an agency data review project.

Known, active cases inched up to 13,485. Active cases are averaging just under 8,000 over the past seven reporting days — lower than two weeks ago. The disease, though, continues to show its staying power.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Cases have accelerated through the late summer, driven by the highly contagious delta variant. The rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is still trending above the 5 percent threshold that public health officials find concerning.

“We’ve been a little encouraged that the rate of increase seems to be slowing down, but we’re still seeing increases,” Malcolm told reporters. Increases in hospitalizations are “particularly concerning,” she added. “I don’t think we feel that we are at a plateau at this time. There are a few encouraging signals in the data but way too early to say much about that.”

She implored Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease — getting vaccinated and continuing to mask in indoor public spaces.

Current hospital and intensive care needs have risen during this summer wave — 718 people are in hospital beds currently with COVID-19, including 208 ICU cases, higher than in the April surge.

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations

The Health Department added 41 newly reported deaths, including 28 older cases reported as part of the agency’s review, bringing the state’s toll in the pandemic to 7,956.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

Minnesota remains better positioned now than during the fall and spring spikes. More than 71 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, and more than two-thirds of that population are completely vaccinated.

Graph showing total COVID-19 vaccinations by age

It remains a slog, though, to get more Minnesotans vaccinated, and wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

Officials also remain concerned about an increase in the number of cases among school-age children as the new school year begins. Compared to this time last year, both case rates and hospitalizations among this group are higher.

Listen to Wednesday’s 2 p.m. briefing by Minnesota health officials:

Latest developments

State launches vaccine app

As more businesses require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry, the state is launching an app that will allow people to view and access their immunization records instantaneously. 

The app, called Docket, includes information about COVID-19 shots, but also other shots, too, said state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann.

“We recognize the importance of having a secure and convenient way to find, view, and share your and your family’s immunization records, such as needing records for school or child care,” she said. 

Health care providers, pharmacists and other practitioners submit vaccination information to the state database called the Minnesota Immunization Information Connection (MIIC) every time they administer a shot.

“The Docket app gives Minnesotans a digital option to access their immunization history in MIIC, check what vaccines you or your children may be due for, and see what vaccines you may need in the future. This is vital to making sure people are protected from preventable diseases,” she said.  

In recent months, more than 30,000 people have requested immunization records from the state compared to roughly 12,000 last year. The volume has created a backlog, with people waiting weeks to get their information.

Right now, vaccination records are recorded on small paper cards that can be lost or torn - an inconvenience as more and more businesses and facilities require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News