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The daily coronavirus update: Minnesota sees record highs for new cases, hospitalizations

The number of positive cases is up 2,867 from Wednesday’s count — a new single-day record — and is based on 27,769 new tests.

COVID-19
COVID-19
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 October 29, 2020:

142,311 confirmed cases; 2,419 deaths 

Thirty-two more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday, which is the second time the state has reported more than 30 deaths in October. So far in the pandemic, 2,419 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19.

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Of the deaths announced Thursday, one person was older than 100, 11 were in their 90s, 10 were in their 80s, five were in their 70s, four were in their 60s and one person was in their 50s. Of the 32 deaths announced, 20 were among residents of long-term care facilities. 

Minnesota has now reported double-digit deaths in eight of the last 10 days. There have been 385 deaths so far in October, making it the third most deadly month of the pandemic. The state reported 401 deaths in June and 696 deaths in May.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MDH also said Thursday there have been 142,311 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of positives is up 2,867 from Wednesday’s count — a new single-day record — and is based on 27,769 new tests. The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is 6.8 percent. Officials generally say a rate above 5 percent is a concerning sign of disease spread.

The current caseload and death toll combines Minnesotans with positive PCR tests and positive antigen tests approved under a Food and Drug emergency authorization use. MDH added antigen tests to case counts on Oct. 14.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Thursday that 685 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, a new high watermark in the state. The number of hospitalized patients is up by 42 from Wednesday. Of those 685 people, 168 are in intensive care, Malcolm said. Some hospitals are even using COVID-19 surge capacity now, Malcolm said.You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

Escalation of pandemic continues in Greater Minnesota

The majority of people dying from COVID-19 continues to be in Greater Minnesota, a sign of a changing and spreading pandemic that is now greatly affecting smaller cities and towns across the state.

Over the last week, 118 people died in Minnesota and 71 of the deaths came outside of the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. St. Louis and Stearns counties each reported nine deaths in the last week, the highest tolls of any county outside the metro.

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While St. Louis County, which includes Duluth and many cities on the Iron Range, had reported 43 deaths over the first seven months of the pandemic, the county has now reported 74 deaths. Stearns County, which includes St. Cloud, had reported 25 deaths as of Oct. 1. Now it has 50 deaths.

Several smaller counties are still reporting sharp increases in deaths. For instance, Mille Lacs County had reported just three deaths as of Oct. 1 and now has reported 18. 

It’s not just deaths that are rising outside of the Twin Cities metro.

The weekly case rate, a measure of positive cases per 10,000 people, continues to climb around much of the state. In Todd County, that case rate was 5.3 on the week of Sept. 13, but was 48.3 on the week of Oct. 11, the most recent data available. That case rate is fourth highest in the state. (Todd County had two total deaths as of Oct. 1 and now has reported seven.)

The highest case rate in the state belongs to Chippewa County, which jumped from 24.1 the week of Sept. 13 to 58.3 the week of Oct. 11. Of the 30 counties with the highest weekly case rates, 29 are in Greater Minnesota. (Washington County ranks No. 29.)

Of the top 25 counties in the most recent data for weekly positivity rate, 24 are in Greater Minnesota. (Washington County ranks No. 24.)

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Health officials say a high level of disease spread is infecting workers and staff at long-term care facilities, where the elderly and sick are more likely to experience a severe case of COVID-19. Transmission around the state can’t be tied to any one large event or gathering, Malcolm said, but rather “thousands of seemingly small decisions people are making every day,” such as hosting small gatherings.

“I know so many Minnesotans are trying to find the right balance between the need for social connections and covid-19 precautions,” Malcolm said. “With the level of virus that’s out there now means the very things we were doing a couple of months ago … are riskier now.”

Health officials say they can’t proactively enforce guidelines on Trump rally

Malcolm told reporters that state officials can do little to prevent or alter a large political rally ahead of time, despite reports that a Trump rally Friday could draw thousands. 

As of Thursday morning, the president’s event was scheduled at McNeilus Steel in Dodge Center, and Minnesota Public Radio reported that the company’s CEO estimated a 25,000-person crowd. The event was originally planned for an airport hangar in Rochester. The state currently limits gatherings to 250 people, a rule the Trump administration has repeatedly broken in Minnesota.

MPR said later Thursday the event could be moved again and the campaign was again considering the Rochester site. Either way, Malcolm said it’s “difficult for local officials to take proactive enforcement actions,” Malcolm said. “We just have to keep reinforcing to people what the expectations are.”

“Indicators” suggest more deaths and hospitalizations could be on the way

Minnesotans could experience rising deaths and more hospitalizations beyond the high numbers currently in the state, Malcolm said Thursday. When stats like case positivity rise, that leads to more hospitalizations and death down the road, and Malcolm said “we do know that some of those indicators are heading still further up.”

Kris Ehresmann
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Director Kris Ehresmann
Kris Ehresmann, the MDH infectious disease director, said Minnesota can also look at neighboring states, which are experiencing record deaths and infections as a projection of what might happen soon in Minnesota. “We’re looking with concern at where our neighbors have been and the direction that we’re going and there’s a little too much overlap between the two,” she said.

Gov. Tim Walz and his administration has urged compliance with existing public health regulations to limit the spread of COVID-19 instead of installing new ones, despite the rising case numbers. Asked if the state has estimates on how many deaths new restrictions might prevent, Malcolm said they will share new projections in the coming weeks from a model developed with the University of Minnesota that can estimate the trajectory of the pandemic based on factors such as increased mask-wearing or the effectiveness or adoption of a vaccine.

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Malcolm said the state is wary that fatigue with following COVID-19 rules means putting new restrictions on public life “may not gain us more compliance.”

But that doesn’t mean new restrictions would not prevent deaths, Malcolm said. “The questions around the impact of mitigation measures just need to be continually refreshed with what we learn,” she said.

Free testing to open in St. Paul on Friday

MDH said it will open a free COVID-19 testing site Friday at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul as part of the state’s effort to increase the availability of testing and measure disease spread.

For now, testing will be available noon to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. The state will collect saliva for the tests, rather than use nose or throat swabs. People who have no symptoms of COVID-19 or no health insurance can also get a test at the center.

So far, the state has opened similar testing sites in Duluth, Winona, Moorhead, Brooklyn Park, Mankato and St. Cloud. In a news release, MDH said it plans to open at least three more sites over the “coming weeks” in the Twin Cities metro area.

Appointments can be made online here.

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Around the web

MDH’s coronavirus website: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

MDH’s phone line for COVID-19 questions, Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m: 651-297-1304

 

CORRECTION: 2,419 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, not 1,689, which is the number of people in long-term care who have died of COVID-19.