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The daily coronavirus update: social gatherings fueling rise in Minnesota case numbers

One more Minnesotan has died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Monday. 

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

MinnPost provides updates on coronavirus in Minnesota Sunday through Friday. The information is published following a press phone call with members of the Walz administration or after the release of daily COVID-19 figures by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Here are the latest updates from August 31, 2020:

One more Minnesotan has died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Monday, for a total of 1,817. 

The person who died was in their early 70s and was a resident of a long-term care facility. Of the 1,817 deaths reported in Minnesota, 1,339 have been among residents of long-term care. The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests.

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MDH also said Monday there have been 75,864 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of confirmed cases is up 675 from Sunday’s count and is based on 11,346 new tests. You can find the seven-day positive case average here.

Since the start of the outbreak, 6,480 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 306 are currently in the hospital, 131 of which are in intensive care. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

Of the 75,864 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 67,656 are believed to have recovered.

More information on cases can be found here.

A rise in cases fueled in part by social gatherings

State health officials on Monday warned that Minnesotans need to follow COVID-19 guidelines better by wearing masks and properly social distancing in order to curb spread of the disease before the weather gets colder, schools start and people spend more time indoors.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
While death rates remain relatively low in the state, MDH officials said their metrics are showing signs of an escalating pandemic. For one, there has been a 7.9 percent increase in cases week over week but only a 7.6 percent increase in total tests. That’s the first time the state has reported a larger growth in cases than tests.

Minnesota’s seven-day positivity average, which lags by a week, is now 5.2 percent, up from 4.9 percent the week prior. MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state’s epidemic had plateaued, but is now inching back up again.

One cause is social gatherings. Malcolm said that people are generally good about adhering to health rules in places like grocery stores and other public places. But she said gatherings of family and friends has “really proven to be a weak spot in our collective statewide response to the pandemic.”

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Kris Ehresmann, MDH’s infectious disease director, said the state has identified 29 outbreaks tied to social gatherings across the state in August. That includes nine weddings, 13 parties or similar gatherings, and two funerals. Since June the state has traced more than 500 cases back to social events.

Malcolm said Minnesota “cannot afford to have this Labor Day weekend further accelerate our community spread,” because the state is “walking on the edge of a cliff” toward a serious escalation of the pandemic.  

MDH echoed warnings by Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus task force coordinator, who told reporters over the weekend that Minnesota is seeing a concerning rise in cases and a lack of compliance with public health guidelines like mask wearing, particularly in more rural areas. Birx toured Minnesota recently and has been stopping in several states to better understand disease response.

While officials sound alarms over rising case counts, there are fewer people in the ICU than at any point since late July. And deaths have remained relatively low. While those are lagging indicators, meaning it takes time for rising cases to result in hospitalizations and deaths, Malcolm said treatment of COVID-19 has also steadily improved since the outbreak began. Younger people, who are less likely to have a severe case of COVID-19, have also made up a greater share of those infected.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

Hotline, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.: 651-201-3920