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The daily coronavirus update: more workplace outbreaks as cases continue to surge in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health said the number of positive cases in the state is up 2,948 from Sunday’s count, based on 37,429 new tests.

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 November 2, 2020:

153,620 confirmed cases; 2,484 deaths

Nine more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Monday, for a total of 2,484. 

Of the people whose deaths were announced Monday, three were in their 90s, one was in their 80s, two were in their 70s, one was in their 60s and two were in their 50s. Five of the nine people whose deaths were reported Monday were residents of a long-term care facility.

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MDH also said Monday there have been 153,620 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of positives is up 2,948 from Sunday’s count and is based on 37,429 new tests. That is the second highest single-day testing count so far in the pandemic. Minnesota has reported more than 2,000 cases in seven of the last 10 days. 

The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is now 8.1 percent. Officials say a rate above 5 percent is a concerning sign of disease spread, and Jan Malcolm, the MDH commissioner, said they expect that number to rise considering the jump in new cases over the last week. The 8.1 percent rate is a sharp increase from Friday, when state officials said the seven-day average was 6.8 percent.

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.

Malcolm told reporters Monday that 748 people are currently hospitalized with COVID, 182 of which are in intensive care. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

Where outbreaks are happening

Malcolm said the state is recording more workplace outbreaks as the pandemic escalates in Minnesota. In the week of Oct. 24, the state reported 95 workplace outbreaks, which was a 76 percent increase from the previous high. 

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Those outbreaks included a “wider range” of manufacturing plants, Malcolm said, meaning they weren’t as concentrated on food processing. But the highest number of outbreaks came in retail and office work environments, Malcolm said.

An outbreak counts only cases tied among employees, not customers. Malcolm said the state has launched 172 investigations at 161 bars and restaurants, to which officials have linked 3,185 primary cases. That does not include “subsequent waves of transmission,” Malcolm said.

Of those 161 businesses, 74 had at least seven cases, accounting for a total of 2,220 primary cases.

Kris Ehresmann, MDH the infectious disease director, said the spread in Greater Minnesota continues to be worse than in the Twin Cities metro area. The top 12 counties with the highest per capita number of cases over the past three weeks are outside of the metro, Ehresmann said.

She said southwest Minnesota has seen a particularly bad spread. The trend can’t be tracked to any one event or issue, Ehresmann said. “It is absolutely due to widespread transmission across all sectors and across the community,” she said.

Malcolm said the state is discussing whether to change attendance limits for public gatherings in light of transmission in the state, and she said officials are encouraging people to be “even more careful than the guidelines.” Ehresmann noted that businesses like wedding venue operators can be put in a tough spot when they follow guidelines but guests ignore them or fail to closely follow them.

Why contact tracing has become harder

As cases continue to rise in Minnesota, Malcolm said contact tracing has become more difficult. 

Some people aren’t willing to share information with the state, hindering case investigations, Malcolm said, but many people also have little information to offer because they “genuinely have no idea where they could have been exposed.” That could be in part because they attend many events, Malcolm said, or because spread is so high around the state and people are transmitting the disease while asymptomatic.

Ehresmann estimated roughly 30 to 35 percent of people are “expressing reluctance to share details” with case investigators, a number that has increased over the course of the pandemic.

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Malcolm said it’s still valuable to get contacts from those people to warn them of possible exposure, but Ehresmann said the state has been working to try and make their efforts more efficient so health officials can get critical info while dealing with a high volume of cases. Ehresmann said they have at least 500 staff doing contact tracing work. 

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