Daily COVID-19 case numbers have leveled off in recent days — with the Minnesota Department of Health reporting another 6,423 infections on Tuesday along with 38 deaths — but state health officials said it is too soon to conclude that the latest wave in the pandemic has peaked.
The Minnesota Department of Health has reported an average of 6,567 new infections per day for the seven-day period ending Tuesday, compared to an average of 7,052 in the seven-day period ending Nov. 20.
State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said she celebrates any drop in COVID-19 deaths and infections, but that Minnesota could face further increases, especially with potential viral transmission over the holiday weekend.
“It is too early to say we have peaked,” she said. “We may go up and down over the next days. We still have a very large amount of virus circulating in the state. And when ‘down’ is over 6,000 cases a day that is still problematic. We continue to monitor the situation.”
Infection counts on Tuesdays have typically been lower, reflecting reduced testing and reporting on the weekends. Tuesday’s figures brought Minnesota’s totals in the pandemic to 3,303 COVID-19 deaths and 282,916 infections verified through diagnostic testing.
More than 80% of deaths in the pandemic have involved Minnesotans 70 or older. Tuesday’s numbers reflected that trend, but included one COVID-19 death of a person in Dakota County in the 35-39 age range. The state has reported a total of 30 COVID-19 deaths involving people 39 and younger.
Pressure has slowed over the past four days on Minnesota hospitals, which responded to rising COVID-19 admissions with delays of noncritical surgeries or procedures that were likely to require patient stays.
The state’s pandemic dashboard showed a total of 1,828 patients with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals, including 379 requiring intensive care. Both numbers are records in the pandemic for Minnesota, which had only reported 781 total COVID-19 hospitalizations on Nov. 1.
However, the total was 1,812 on Nov. 20. And total ICU bed usage has declined. The state reports only 997 of 1,440 immediately available ICU beds are filled by patients with COVID-19 or other unrelated medical issues.
State health officials have urged Minnesotans to comply with the four-week order limiting social gatherings to immediate households only and to continue the mitigation strategies of mask-wearing and social distancing that slow the spread of the virus. The holidays can typically accelerate the spread of seasonal influenza, and health officials are worried that the same will happen with COVID-19 over Thanksgiving.
Mayo Clinic on Tuesday reported new unpublished research endorsing the protective benefit of those measures. The study used mannequins to simulate the spread of viral droplets and found that masks reduced the spread and that 3 feet of separation helped but that 6 feet was better.
“I think we had some knowledge about the importance of masks and there’s been a number of studies that have showed masks are effective in blocking viruses, but what’s really important here is just how effective masking is when done by both parties,” said Dr. Elie Berbari, Mayo’s chair of infectious diseases.