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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: 'Saddened, not surprised' as deaths rise

Oct 22, 2020 05:16AM ● By Editor
A bag meant to hold COVID-19 nasal swab samples is handled by a contractor working for the Minnesota Department of Health in September at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing event at the Itasca County Fairgrounds in Grand Rapids, Minn.  Photo: Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

From Minnesota Public Radio News - October 22, 2020

Wednesday’s COVID-19 data offered a grim reminder of the pandemic’s ongoing toll in Minnesota. 

The Health Department reported 35 deaths, matching a single-day record from May. Hospital admissions continue to climb. Minnesota’s seven-day trend of newly reported hospital admissions also set a record high, averaging 80 a day over the last week.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 2,281 deaths

  • 126,591 positive cases, 113,158 off isolation

  • 2,560,520 tests, 1,708,185 people tested

  • 6.5 percent, seven-day positive test rate

State officials expected that late summer and early fall gatherings, sporting events and informal meetups among Minnesotans would deliver a surge of cases in October. They also anticipated the wave would put more people in the hospital — and lead to more deaths.

That appears to be happening.

“Imagine the heartbreak that is behind each one of those deaths," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters.

Officials were saddened and alarmed but not surprised by the numbers, she said. The surge in cases has led to a surge in hospitalizations and more deaths, and Minnesota must brace itself for more unless more Minnesotans take steps to stem the spread of the disease, she said.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Health authorities remain concerned that Minnesotans, fatigued by more than seven months of trying to stay vigilant against the virus, are letting their guard down in private settings, even as the virus spreads. Active confirmed cases of the disease remain at or near record highs.

“We do need to understand that more cases are going to lead to more people with serious disease, potentially with long-term complications we are only beginning to understand,” Malcolm said.

Active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Caseloads rising across age groups

New cases are up dramatically over the past month in all age groups. That includes a concerning rise in the number of new cases among Minnesotans ages 60 and older.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 28,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 16,000 among people ages 20-24. 

New Minnesota COVID-19 cases by age adjusted for population

The numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about young adults as spreaders of the virus.

While 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 and that spread could hamper attempts to reopen schools and campuses completely to in-person teaching. 

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 11,400 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began. 

Cases surging along Minnesota’s western border

Regionally, central, northern and southern Minnesota have driven much of the recent increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state. 

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Newly reported cases are highest in western Minnesota — the northwest, west-central and southwest areas of the state are all averaging about 50 new cases per day per 100,000 people, higher than any of the state’s central and eastern regions.

The data don’t explain why. However, cases are surging currently in the Dakotas. North Dakota has the country’s worst per-capita spread rate.

Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.

Northern Minnesota, once by far the region least affected by the disease, has also seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks. 

Deaths are also spiking in northern and central Minnesota.

“We are seeing more deaths in greater Minnesota because we are seeing more cases there,” Ehresmann said Wednesday. “We will see more and more deaths from greater Minnesota because of the high caseload.”

Ehresmann and Malcolm tied the recent steep rise in cases and deaths to “COVID fatigue” but also described people who are ill but refuse to get tested because they don't want to admit they have it and don't quarantine as a contributing factor in spreading the disease.

Latino, Indigenous cases jump

In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths.

Minnesotans of Hispanic descent are testing positive for COVID-19 at about five times the rate of white Minnesotans. They, along with Black Minnesotans, are also being hospitalized and moved to intensive care units at higher rates than the overall population.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by race

Similar trends hold true for Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people have jumped in October relative to population.

Data the past two weeks also show newly confirmed cases continuing to accelerate among Latino people in Minnesota.

Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, particularly for undocumented immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them. 

‘We need to take this seriously’

The newest numbers came after Minnesota officials, seeing rampant spread across the state, strongly suggested people rethink their holiday plans and avoid multifamily celebrations or big gatherings with friends.

Traditional year-end holiday gatherings may simply may be too risky in a pandemic, Malcolm said Monday.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases

“The transmission is everywhere, not just one or two sources or one or two kinds of settings. It’s the individual decisions that we’re all making fueling the rate of increase we’re seeing,” Malcolm cautioned. “We need to take this seriously.”

While surges early in the pandemic were driven largely by illnesses tied to long-term care facilities and workplace sites such as meatpacking plants, officials say the current spread is diffused, making it even harder to trace and isolate cases.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

“Going out for happy hour after work with your coworkers or getting together with a bunch of friends that you haven't seen for awhile, all of that seems pretty innocuous. But in reality all of those different interactions can lead to transmission,” Ehresmann told MPR News on Monday.

Later Monday, Ehresmann said Minnesotans should think about holiday gatherings of 10 or fewer this year instead of big potluck dinners across multiple families.

On Wednesday, she and Malcolm again implored Minnesotans to take personal responsibility to stem the spread of the disease, including wearing masks in indoor public spaces, socially distancing and staying home if you feel ill.

“It’s hard,” said Malcolm, “but it’s not complicated.”

Developments around the state

Winter Carnival organizers say show will go on, with changes

Organizers of the St. Paul Winter Carnival say the annual celebration will go on next year, but with changes because of the pandemic. 

The ice- and snow-carving events will move to drive-thru displays at the state fairgrounds, the St. Paul Heritage and Festival Foundation said. A 5K race around Lake Phalen will replace the usual runs out of downtown St. Paul. The two traditional parades have already been canceled.

Organizers say they are bringing back a softball tournament and moving the long-running jigsaw puzzle contest online via Zoom teleconferencing.

The Winter Carnival is scheduled for Jan. 28 through Feb. 7.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

DFL state senator tests positive

A DFL state senator is in the quarantine phase after testing positive for COVID-19.

Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin said he test he took Oct. 8 came back positive. He sought the test after experiencing flu-like symptoms a few days earlier.

Sparks didn’t come to the Capitol for the recent special session and says he’s been doing his work remotely. A few other lawmakers have disclosed their own bouts with the virus since this spring.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Top headlines

First-year teachers get a crash course on dealing with chaos and change in pandemic: Managing classroom chaos — and anxiety — are just some of the usual challenges that come with being a first-year teacher. But this year, those new teachers also have to master remote learning and managing all of the extra health protocols.

St. John's, St. Ben's shift gears to keep students on campus:COVID-19 forced colleges and universities to make major changes this year in the ways students learn and interact — and many students are taking most or even all of their courses online. But in central Minnesota, St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict decided to keep students on campus and in the classroom as much as possible.

MN top health officials on what’s behind the Midwest COVID-19 surge: In Wisconsin, hospitals are at or near capacity following a tripling of coronavirus patients in the last month. North Dakota and South Dakota showed the highest number of cases per capita in the country based on the most recent seven-day average. Minnesota set its own record for new cases on Friday, and hospitalizations and deaths in the state continue to rise.

To read the original articles and see more COVID-19 reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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