Updated: 2:56 p.m.
High testing levels again pushed Minnesota’s new confirmed COVID-19 counts higher, with the Health Department on Monday reporting another 936 cases.
The newest numbers come following a week where much of the data used to understand the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota trended the wrong way.
Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 case count jumped by more than 2,500 over the weekend, as the state’s death toll from the pandemic surpassed 2,000.
Spread is being driven largely now by weddings, funerals and informal get-togethers among friends, families and co-workers who are not staying vigilant against the disease, state officials say.
Outbreaks are increasing at social gatherings as well as workplaces from grocery stores to manufacturing, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Monday.
Weddings have accounted for 37 outbreaks. One that included an outdoor reception left two people hospitalized with the disease. “One event can affect so many people,” she said.
The state is also seeing more cases among working-age Minnesotans 20 to 40 years old. “You could be exposing a colleague who could get very sick,” Ehresmann cautioned as she implored people to socially distance, wear masks in indoor gathering spaces and stay home if they don’t fell well.
New counts of active confirmed cases remain at or near record highs in the pandemic, so much so that a group of public health and crisis experts downgraded Minnesota to “uncontrolled spread” status among states.
Of the 97,638 confirmed cases of the disease tallied in the pandemic to date, about 89 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
Seven more deaths reported Monday put Minnesota’s toll to 2,015. Among those who’ve died, about 72 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.
The latest report marks a record high number of tests reported on a Monday, when testing is usually down. For the first time in the pandemic, the state is averaging more than 20,000 tests per day.
Worries continue around college students, kids
People in their 20s make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — approaching 23,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 13,200 infections among people ages 20-24.
The numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about young adults as spreaders of the virus.
While less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations and that spread could hamper attempts to reopen campuses completely to in-person teaching.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 9,200 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
With many schools in Minnesota attempting to teach in-person, officials say they are especially concerned about the rising numbers of teens becoming infected and how that could affect decisions to keep school buildings open.
Southern, central Minnesota drive spread
Regionally, southern and central Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs have driven much of the increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.
Hot spots have included southwestern Minnesota, where at least 75 cases have been traced to a late-August wedding in Lyon County that officials have described as the state’s largest single social spreader event.
Thirty-nine cases have now been traced to a Martin County funeral, with one person hospitalized, Ehresmann said Monday.
Southeastern Minnesota, specifically Winona, has been another hot spot as students return to college at Winona State and other schools. The problem has been compounded by similar outbreaks nearby across the Mississippi River at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
‘No reason to doubt’ health workers who say they felt threatened
State officials last week said a fact-finding team with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was threatened in mid-September by residents of Eitzen, in far southeastern Minnesota, as the workers attempted to survey residents on COVID-19.
The state Health Department said the team reported their car was blocked in and they were confronted by several people — one of them allegedly armed. Eitzen’s mayor later responded saying the account was not accurate and that a city official and two other residents responded to concerns about people going door-to-door in an unmarked car with California plates.
The mayor said no one was threatened and no gun was present.
Asked about the discrepancy, Dan Huff, an assistant Minnesota health commissioner, stood by his department’s description.
The agency has “no reason to doubt the details of their reports,” Huff said of the CDC workers, noting that Eitzen and other incidents in Minnesota were serious enough that the CDC decided to pull its team from the state.
Developments around the state
Health Dept. warns businesses of mask-related phone scams
The Minnesota Department of Health is cautioning restaurant and bar owners about phone scams tied to the state’s mask mandate.
Officials say they’ve received reports businesses are receiving calls claiming they need to pay a fine for masking violations after a compliance check.
In at least one case, the fraudulent calls targeted a business in an area where officials had not done any checks.
The Health Department said it is not issuing any fines on an initial inspection, and that it’s emphasizing education about the rules.
— MPR News Staff
More free COVID-19 testing sites announced
Six cities across the state will have free COVID-19 testing this week as part of community testing efforts by the Minnesota Department of Health.
There will be testing sites Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Bemidji, Bloomington, Maplewood, Marshall, Moorhead and Thief River Falls. There’s also testing next Saturday in Maplewood.
MDH said you don’t need insurance or identification, and you can get tested even if you don’t have symptoms. They’re asking people to make an appointment ahead of time — more information is on the state health department website.
The testing sites are intended for those local communities; if you live farther away, MDH suggests getting tested at your local clinic.
— MPR News Staff
Virus spread shifts the school guidance map
The evolving COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota continues to change school reopening recommendations around the state.
The most recent batch of recommendations, released Sept. 17, cover cases from Aug. 23 to Sept. 5 — a period that happened to see a late-August spike in new COVID-19 cases.
The result? A full 25 counties saw their COVID-19 case counts slip past one of the Health Department’s thresholds, changing their recommendation toward more distance learning for more students.
In the most recent update, six counties are recommended to have all students do full-time distance learning: Blue Earth, Lyon, Stevens, Waseca, Winona and Yellow Medicine counties. All but Waseca County were previously recommended to allow at least some in-person learning.
Not every county got worse. Eleven counties saw their case rates improve compared to last week’s results, and saw their recommendation shift to more in-person learning.
Overall, 24 largely rural counties have a recommendation of in-person for all students.
A formula produced by the Health Department generates the guidance for districts to help decide whether to have in-person learning, distance learning, or a mix, based on the rate of COVID-19 cases in that district’s county over a two-week period.
These recommendations are only considered the starting point for school districts, which make their own learning plans in cooperation with the Health Department.
Minnesota’s yo-yoing COVID-19 case numbers in recent weeks have meant some drastic swings in school districts’ safe learning recommendations, but state health officials say they’re taking the data irregularities into account when working with schools to set learning plans.
Because Minnesota’s calculation uses weeks-old data and calculates cases by the day a person got tested rather than the day the tests were reported, this update is not affected by recent reporting delays caused by the Labor Day weekend.
— David H. Montgomery | MPR News
Six months in, tribal nations cautiously optimistic about COVID-19 response: A little more than six months since Minnesota registered its first case of COVID-19, tribal nations in Minnesota are measured in their optimism about the effects of their efforts to manage the pandemic — but looking cautiously ahead to what health officials warn will be a difficult fall and winter.
Wisconsin tops 2,000 COVID-19 cases for 4th straight day: Wisconsin health officials on Sunday reported 2,217 new cases of the coronavirus, the fourth day in a row the state has confirmed more than 2,000 positive tests.
Mayor of Minnesota city disputes MDH reports of health workers being threatened: The mayor of a southern Minnesota city is pushing back on state health department claims that a COVID-19 survey team was threatened there earlier this month.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health’s cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.