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The daily coronavirus update: Walz says no plans to implement new restrictions for now

Minnesota Department of Health said Monday that four more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, while the number of positives is up 1,570 from Sunday’s count. 

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 26, 2020:

135,372 confirmed cases; 2,353 deaths 

Four more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Monday, for a total of 2,353. 

Of the deaths announced Monday, one person was in their 90s, one person was in their 80s and two people were in their 70s. All four of the people whose deaths were reported Monday were residents of long-term care facilities.

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Three of the four deaths came in Greater Minnesota. Areas outside of the Twin Cities metro are now bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 death toll.

MDH also said Monday there have been 135,372 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of positives is up 1,570 from Sunday’s count and is based on 23,453 new tests. Minnesota has now had five consecutive days with more than 1,500 new cases and 19 consecutive days reporting more than 1,000 new cases.

Minnesota’s seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is 6.5 percent, up from 5.8 percent the prior week. Health officials say a case average over 5 percent is a concerning sign of disease spread.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday that case growth has outpaced the increase in testing, meaning the rise in COVID-19 is not just a function of doing more testing. She said case growth has been more pronounced in Greater Minnesota, particularly the western part of the state. Spillover from North Dakota and South Dakota — two states experiencing sharp spread of the disease — are one reason Minnesota’s western regions are being hit hard, but Malcolm said it’s also because there is more resistance to following public health guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing.

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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.

The most recent data available show 149 Minnesotans are hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, and 465 are in the hospital with COVID-19 not in intensive care. Malcolm told reporters that there were a total of 343 people hospitalized with COVID-19 at the start of October. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

Social gatherings a major cause of disease spread

Health officials continue to say that gatherings among friends and family are a large source of disease spread. Public settings like grocery stores have seen transmission, but Kris Ehresmann, the MDH infectious disease director, said “social gatherings small and large are really what’s contributing to this spread.”

Ehresmann said small gatherings are safer, but still carry a risk. She also advised to add “layers of protection” when visiting with others, such as wearing a mask, staying distanced, and being outside. But those precautions only mean interactions have less risk, not zero risk, Ehresmann said. “Things that may have been relatively safe a month or two ago may no longer be safe,” she said.

Malcolm said the state has found more than 70 outbreaks related to weddings since June, which have led to more than 650 primary cases. Those with infections directly tied to weddings may infect others, however.

Walz says no new government restrictions

As COVID-19 spreads quickly across Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz said he has no plans to implement new restrictions on public life to curb transmission in the coming weeks. He ruled out placing travel limits between Minnesota and neighboring states experiencing problems, and said the state is not discussing a new stay-home order or new restrictions for restaurants and schools.

Instead, as his health team has done for weeks, Walz preached personal responsibility, saying if people followed existing rules like wearing masks, the state’s case numbers would drop.

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Ehresmann said the state has “tools in our toolbox we have not fully utilized.” But asked what additional steps the state could take to slow the pandemic that don’t include closing businesses or schools or putting other new restrictions in place, Walz said “adherence to the guidelines.”

Walz said there is evidence that mask-wearing in the state is lower in Minnesota than the national average, but he also said shelter-in-place strategies are not a long-term solution — especially if there isn’t broad agreement for such a strategy around the state. The governor did, however, call for a national or regional strategy to fight COVID-19 instead of a more state-by-state approach currently in place.

“At this point in time we’re still asking for compliance to the things we know that work,” Walz said. “Because they’re more effective. Mask wearing is free and it allows our businesses to stay open.

Walz says no punitive response to Pence rally

At the start of a call with reporters Monday, Walz said he hoped the Trump campaign would follow local regulations and limit Vice President Mike Pence’s rally in Hibbing to 250 people. He also said he hoped people would socially distance at the event and wear masks.

Informed on the call that the crowd was well over 250, Walz said he wouldn’t take punitive measures against the campaign or local officials. “I’m just disappointed to hear that,” he said.

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Walz said he was hesitant to try and block people from connecting with political campaigns but said it’s “incredibly unhelpful” when a campaign breaks guidance. “I get it, people signed waivers to go to that that said they wouldn’t hold the campaign responsible,” Walz said. “But your neighbors didn’t sign any waivers, the people who have to work that event didn’t sign any waivers.”

He added: “At this point in time, listening to a speech in a crowded area … isn’t worth the risk.”

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