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Coronavirus in Minnesota: state new single-day highs for cases, tests

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 16, 2020:

119,396 confirmed cases; 2,212 deaths

Thirteen more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 2,212. 

Of the people whose deaths were announced Friday, one was older than 100 years, four were in their 90s, two were in their 80s, one was in their 70s, four were in their 60s and one was in their 50s. The deaths came among people living in 10 counties, a measure of the disease spread across the state. Seven of the 13 deaths announced Friday were among residents of long-term care facilities. Of the 2,212 deaths reported in Minnesota, 1,559 have been among residents of long-term care.

Minnesota has now reported double-digit deaths in seven of the last 10 days, amid what health officials say is an escalating pandemic.

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MDH also said Friday there have been 119,396 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The number of positives is up 2,290 from Thursday’s count and is based on 44,398 new tests. Both the test count and the positive total are single-day highs so far in the pandemic. 

The state’s seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is currently 5.3, an increase from 5.0 percent the week prior. The state generally says a 5 percent rate or above is a concerning sign of disease spread. Minnesota has now been at or above that benchmark for 18 consecutive days.

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.

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MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said there are currently 461 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Minnesota, 137 of which are in intensive care. Hospitalizations, she said, “clearly are trending upward.” Since the start of the pandemic, 8,718 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

Minnesota health officials ‘deeply worried’ about latest COVID-19 data

Malcolm told reporters Friday she is “very saddened” and “frankly deeply worried” about the new case numbers. 

While Malcolm said some of the new cases can be attributed to a spike in testing — which she said is important to be able to find the disease and track its spread — the data was nevertheless “sobering.” The previous single-day high in reported cases was 1,516 on Oct. 10.

Despite the addition of antigen tests into the system, those results are not driving the uptick in case and testing numbers, Malcolm said. And the increase is also not due to any one super-spreader event or gathering, or caused by a backlog of tests that hadn’t been reported.

Malcolm said it’s the “result of just steady inexorable spread in communities across the state between people who don’t know they have contracted the virus.” People can contract and spread COVID-19 without ever showing symptoms, and people are often infectious for a time before they show symptoms of the disease.

Malcolm implored people to follow health guidelines — such as wearing masks, staying at least six feet apart from others and washing hands — and to stay vigilant in taking precautions as the pandemic continues into Winter.  That includes being careful even when visiting in small gatherings with friends and family. “Some of the things that we maybe thought was O.K. to do a month or so ago is much, much riskier today just given this level of viral spread around our state,” Malcolm said. 

Malcolm also said while much attention has been paid to the rapid rise in disease spread in neighboring states, Minnesota is not that different. From the middle of September to last week, cases in Minnesota per 100,000 residents increased by 15.9 percent. In North Dakota over that same time period, cases increased by 27 percent, in South Dakota by 47 percent and in Wisconsin by 19.9 percent.

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Still, Gov. Tim Walz has not made any move to restrict public life the way he did in the earlier months of the pandemic. Malcolm said the state is tracking several metrics to determine its actions, but the administration prefers people to follow existing guidance to keep healthy and safe rather than implement new regulations.

“This is an ongoing conversation within the administration and across multiple different perspectives of trying very very hard to protect our economy, trying to keep people working, trying to keep these sectors of the economy open and trying to do everything we can to support our schools to be able to execute their learning plans,” Malcolm said.

Disease spread has caused shortages of health care workers

Health officials told reporters that the high level of COVID-19 spread in Minnesota is causing health care workers to get sick — outside the hospital. 

That means staff are being quarantined and “most if not all” hospital systems have been forced to take beds offline at times, said Hennepin Healthcare CEO Jennifer DeCubellis. 

“Bed capacity, the number of beds, the number of rooms, has not been our biggest concern,” DeCubellis said. “Our biggest concern is that COVID-19 is a preventable illness. And we’re not doing well enough in Minnesota to protect each other, to protect workers and to protect the critical health care resources so they’re available for people when they need them most.”

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MDH infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said in May, 18 percent of high-risk exposures for health care workers — which are exposures without proper protective equipment — came in patient care, while 24 percent came in social settings or at home. 

In September, just 8 percent of those exposures came from patient care and 62 percent came from social or household settings. “The high level of community transmission is impacting all of our sectors including health care,” Ehresmann said. “Please consider this as you make decisions about masking social distancing and socializing in large groups. 

“You may just be reducing the likelihood that someone is available to care for you when you get sick,” she said.

Today on MinnPost

Around the web

  • ‘Nobody has very clear answers for them’: Doctors search for treatments for COVID-19 long-haulers, reports the Washington Post.
  • A study by the World Health Organization found four drugs have little to no effect on COVID-19, including remdesivir, reports the Associated Press.

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

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