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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Cases top 40K; new cases continue to rise

Jul 10, 2020 05:52AM ● By Editor
Heather Peters, a lab technologist, works in the extracting of RNA from test samples in the Mayo virology lab at the Mayo Clinic Superior Drive facility in Rochester, Minn., in March. 
Photo: David Joles | AP file


From Minnesota Public Radio News - July 10, 2020

Minnesota health officials on Thursday reported 589 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest number since early June. The new case count brings the total since the pandemic arrived in Minnesota to over 40,000 cases. 

The newest numbers show a continued upswing in daily cases over the past few days even as overall hospitalizations continue to decline. Thursday’s daily cases, however, are still well below the state’s pandemic peak in May. 

Officials on Thursday also reported five more deaths from the disease, bringing the state toll to 1,490 since the pandemic began.

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics in Minnesota

  • 40,163 cases confirmed (589 new) via 705,440 tests

  • 1,490 deaths (five new)

  • 4,305 cases requiring hospitalization

  • 251 people remain hospitalized; 116 in intensive care

  • 35,193 patients no longer needing isolation

Earlier this week, a key state health official warned Minnesotans against holding “COVID parties” as a way to become infected with the coronavirus in a convenient way. The behavior of young adults in the pandemic has become a central concern among state officials recently as they investigate outbreaks tied to bars and other recently opened indoor social spaces. 

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the largest age group of confirmed cases — nearly 9,000 since the pandemic began — with their numbers accelerating in recent weeks since bars were allowed conditionally to open their indoor spaces. 

“It’s really playing Russian roulette,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday, noting that even young people face the risk of significant health complications and can spread the disease to vulnerable family members. 

Positive test rate bears watching

The number of confirmed cases and the rate of positive tests for the disease have risen noticeably the past few days, even as deaths and hospitalizations plateau.

The daily percent positive rate reported Thursday slipped back below 5 percent, although it remains above last week’s levels.

On Wednesday, Ehresmann said the increase in the positive test rate may be due to focused testing in areas suspected of having significant community spread of the virus. 

"I don't want to suggest the high positivity rate is a good thing unconditionally, but there are some situations in which it reflects that our testing is really reaching some of the populations that we need to reach," she said.

Testing supply shortages loom amid outbreaks in other states

With coronavirus hot spots recently developing in other parts of the country, including Florida and Arizona, Minnesota health officials said Wednesday that they're watching a nationwide shortage of testing supplies closely.

State officials said that they've been hearing from clinics and hospitals that they're having a harder time getting those testing supplies, and it may affect whether people can get tested on any given day. 

The shortages, they said, appear to be the result of more cases cropping up in other states, and that supplies are being diverted there to keep up with demand. 

Officials added that they're also hearing that samples sent to labs out of state for testing may take longer to get results back because those labs may be processing more tests than usual. That presents an issue with people not knowing if they have the virus until they get test results, and moving around in the community meanwhile, spreading it inadvertently.

Statewide mask order weighed

This week, Winona, Rochester and Mankato became the latest Minnesota cities to order citywide mask mandates to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The city mandates will require people to wear a mask in public indoor spaces. Minneapolis, St. Paul and Edina have also mandated mask-wearing in the cities’ public spaces.

Gov. Tim Walz last week said he is also concerned enough about a potential outbreak that he’s considering a statewide mask order. Medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department support a statewide order. A decision from Walz could come this week. 

The state’s now recorded 40,163 positive cases. About 88 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Of those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living facilities, nearly all had long-term health problems. State health officials are encouraging family members who visit loved ones in long-term care facilities to practice safety protocols, including wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. 

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 972 confirmed cases as of Thursday. Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing. 

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,676 confirmed cases Thursday with six deaths. About 1 in 13 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. 

There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Thursday, confirmed cases were at 2,448 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. 

As of Thursday, the Health Department reported 584 people have now tested positive in the county. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Lyon County (331 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall. Cases the past few weeks have also grown in Cottonwood County (138 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom in southern Minnesota, but the counts there have since stabilized.


Developments from around the state

Bar-driven outbreak reported in Rochester

Olmsted County public health officials say they've identified more than 25 cases of coronavirus among people bar-hopping in downtown Rochester.

Public health officials are asking people who went to bars in downtown Rochester between June 26 and July 7 get tested for coronavirus.

Officials said they have identified a cluster of cases that they can't pin to any specific bar because those who tested positive went to multiple locations. They said that the cases so far have involved alcohol consumption, and no mask-wearing or social distancing. 

One bar, Dooley's Pub, closed down last week after several staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Public health officials say there's been an uptick in cases teens and 20-year-olds in recent weeks. Meanwhile, state public health officials have been tracking similar clusters in other parts of Minnesota, including Mankato, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Survey signals support for returning kids to school

An informal, nonscientific survey of Minnesotan families shows 64 percent of those responding indicating they'd feel comfortable sending their students back into school buildings this fall.

Less than 12 percent said they would not feel comfortable sending their kids back to school. Most cited concerns about public health as the reason, according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The agency said it collected more than 130,000 completed responses between June 15 and July 6. State officials are expected to announce plans for the 2020-21 public school year no later than the week of July 27.

— MPR News Staff

MN will borrow from feds to sustain jobless aid 

Minnesota will soon borrow from the federal government to make sure unemployment benefits keep flowing to those who qualify. 

Many states are doing the same, given the depth and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota is expected to have to tap into federal resources within the week.

“Six hundred thousand people have received benefits and over $5 billion. The previous record in a given year was 250,000 people and $2.8 billion,” Jim Hegman, the state’s unemployment director, told a Minnesota House committee Thursday. “So we did in four months what in the midst of the Great Recession we didn’t even do in a full year.”

He said Minnesota last borrowed to pay benefits during the recession that began in 2008.

It’s likely that the borrowing will be repaid using standard taxes assessed on businesses, which feed the fund in the first place. The money comes to the state at little or no interest, and Congress will face pressure to forgive the loans given how widespread the financial fallout from the pandemic has been.

Hegman’s testimony came during a House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee hearing into a proposal related to unemployment benefits tied to idled mining operations.

A pending proposal would supply up to six more months of benefits to people laid off from a mining or a mining industry support job. That’s if they’ve exhausted their standard benefits before operations halted by COVID-19 pandemic or other disruptions can resume.

State Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, said the extension would prevent Iron Range towns from being hollowed out during the current dip.

“Unfortunately we’re facing a devastating trifecta in the downturn of taconite, timber and tourism,” she said.

Most of northern Minnesota’s mines have slowed down or been temporarily shut with demand for goods down.

The bill could come up in a special session expected to be called for next week.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News


Top headlines

Unscientific survey shows most MN families want in-person school, despise distance learning: A new survey from the Minnesota Department of Education shows a majority of families had a bad experience with distance learning and want schools to resume in-person classes in the fall. But the results are just a sampling — and hardly scientific.

In Bemidji, the hospital is prepared for COVID-19 — as county cases see an uptick: In Bemidji, Sanford Medical Center has worked for months to prepare for COVID-19. A recent spike in cases among young people now has the hospital waiting — and worrying.


To read the original stories and see related COVID-19 reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.  https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/07/10/latest-on-covid19-in-mn


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