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The daily coronavirus update: record hospitalizations as Minnesota reports deadliest week yet

Through 13 days of November, 382 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19.

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 November 13, 2020:

207,339 cases; 2,839 deaths

Forty-six more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 2,839. That is the second-highest one-day death toll of the pandemic. The state reported 56 deaths on Wednesday.

Jan Malcolm, the MDH commissioner, told reporters Friday that this was the deadliest week so far in the pandemic. Through 13 days of November, 382 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, putting the state on track for by far its deadliest month yet. In May, 696 people died from coronavirus, but deaths had dropped from there.

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Of the people whose deaths were announced Friday, one was over 100 years old, 10 were in their 90s, 19 were in their 80s, 12 were in their 70s, two were in their 60s, one was in their 50s and one was in their 20s. The person in their 20s had no underlying health conditions, said Gov. Tim Walz. Thirty-three of the 46 people whose deaths announced Friday were residents of long-term care facilities.

Thirty-three of the 46 deaths came in Greater Minnesota and 13 came in the Twin Cities metro area. The deaths were spread across 29 counties. The majority of people who died over the last month were living outside of the metro area, though deaths are increasing across the whole state. In the week between Nov. 6 and Thursday, there were 134 outstate deaths and 104 in the seven-county metro. The week prior, there were 80 deaths in Greater Minnesota and 56 in the metro. 

MDH also said Friday there have been 207,339 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. That number is up 5,544 from the total announced on Thursday and is based on a record-high 51,241 new tests. The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is now 13.1 percent. That is up from 9.8 percent from the week prior. Health officials say a seven-day rate above 5 percent is a concerning sign of escalating disease spread.

Malcolm said 293 Minnesotans are hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, and 1,131 are in the hospital with COVID-19 not in intensive care. Both are new highs. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

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Walz says more restrictions likely but still resists bigger lockdown

Walz on Friday told reporters there “may very well be more changes and mitigation measures” as the state continues to assess the pandemic in Minnesota, but he stopped short of calling for stringent lockdowns.

Across the country, some governors and local officials have issued tougher rules against bars, restaurants and gyms than Walz recently imposed. New Mexico said Friday it was ordering a two-week lockdown to reduce spread of COVID-19. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recommended people who travel to his state quarantine for two-weeks after arriving.

Walz only hinted at what restrictions might come next, saying they would target places where people are gathering “close together, indoors, with close contact for an extended period of time.” Settings like that drawing young people are a particular concern, he said.

Still, Walz did not foreshadow any type of stay-home order or sharply restrictive limits. “I think from a purely epidemiological situation it would make sense and would have the biggest effect if you could do that,” Walz said of lockdowns. “I just think from a social psychology perspective in how divided we are and how controversial this is for some people, it makes it very difficult.”

He also said he hopes not to fine or wield punishments against bars and other businesses that are breaking COVID-19 rules, saying he didn’t want to cause further harm against business owners whose lives have already been disrupted. He instead preached voluntary compliance. “Most people don’t need statutes to not assault their neighbors,” Walz said.

Even as Minnesota sets records for COVID-19 cases and deaths, health officials say they expect the pandemic to get worse in coming weeks. Walz said it took 27 weeks for Minnesota to report its first 100,000 cases, and only seven weeks to reach 200,000 cases. He said the state expects to reach 300,000 cases in less than three weeks.

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While the state has increased testing, and is therefore finding and reporting more positive cases than before, Minnesota’s rapidly increasing positivity rate and rising death toll suggest more people are getting sick.

Walz said the state would do better at controlling spread with a national strategy to curb the virus, instead of the state-by-state approach preferred by the Trump administration. 

State says lives should be saved now as ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ nears with vaccine

Walz and Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, also implored people to follow public health guidelines now more than ever since vaccine developers report promising developments, raising hopes of an available product by spring.

“With the advent of the vaccine and the availability of that vaccine I believe starting in the first quarter of next year, if we can just hold out until then, we can save so many lives, so much suffering,” Osterholm said. “Our efforts are not for a long-term, ‘do this forever’ kind of approach. It’s to give us the time to get us to a vaccine.”

Osterholm in particular made a passionate plea for people to avoid in-person gatherings over Thanksgiving, saying he’s heard stories of asymptomatic young people unknowingly transmitting COVID-19 to their family and killing relatives. 

The state is currently advising everyone between the ages of 18-35 to get a test, which can be done for free through the state, though people can still develop COVID-19 between when a test is taken and when results are delivered.

Osterholm said social distancing, masking and avoiding crowds could also help a strained health care system in which nurses and doctors are working long, stressful hours and falling ill or quarantining. Hospitals say low staffing and high numbers of COVID-19 cases are causing a shortage in beds and care capacity.

Osterholm said Minnesotans can’t expect health care workers to continue working under current conditions very long, and in order for the system to hold together until a vaccine, the state must curb the pandemic. 

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Walz said. “We know that every day we get closer to the vaccine is one more day we can fight this thing through and bring more people with us.”

State to starts new text messaging contact tracing strategy

Malcolm said the state is planning to text people who are infected with COVID-19 or may have been in contact with an infected person before calling them as part of their contact tracing strategy to try and cut down on unnecessary phone time.

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She said other states and local officials have reported success in getting people to answer their phones when prompted by a text and reducing unnecessary work of calling those who won’t pick up.

The strategy could add another layer of verification to interactions so people know when the state is contacting them, and when a spammer is.

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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