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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: As young adult cases jump, spread worries rise – Minnesota Public Radio News

Jul 13, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Updated 3:15 p.m.

With fresh data showing young adults continuing to drive up new COVID-19 case counts, state health leaders on Monday again implored Minnesotans to socially distance and wear masks as they venture back into bars, restaurants and other social spaces.

Officials have been concerned for two weeks about the jump in cases among people in their 20s — now the age group with the most confirmed cases, approaching 10,000 in Minnesota since the outbreak started.

Share of new COVID-19 cases by age

The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now below 38 years old.

While the jump in young adult cases wasn’t unexpected as bars and restaurants slowly reopened to indoor customers, the fairly steep rise in cases has been surprising, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters.

Officials continue to worry that those newly infected young people may inadvertently spread the disease to grandparents and other potentially vulnerable populations. Malcolm said she expected to see a “second and third generation transmission” cascading from those young adult cases in coming weeks.

While current hospitalization counts in Minnesota remain relatively low, “we are likely going to see increases in hospitalizations because of the ripple effect” of younger people becoming infected, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.

Young adults, she added, “don’t live in a vacuum.”

Hospitalizations fall, case counts jump

Malcolm’s concerns about young adult spread came hours after her agency reported both positive and worrisome trends in the COVID-19 pandemic. The count of new deaths remains in low single digits, but the number of new confirmed cases continues to leap.

Health Department officials on Monday reported two more deaths, putting the disease’s toll in the state at 1,504.

Daily hospitalizations (247) and people currently needing intensive care (114) continue to dip. Those are two closely watched metrics as officials work to managed the spread of COVID-19 so it doesn’t overwhelm the state’s health care system.

That relatively good news, however, remains tempered by the fact that the number of new daily confirmed cases has risen steeply over the past two weeks, with 499 new cases reported Monday.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Of the state’s 42,772 total confirmed cases since the pandemic began, about 87 percent of those Minnesotans infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Among those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living facilities.

Besides hospitalizations and intensive care cases, officials are also now closely watching the percentage of people who are testing positive for the disease. The state’s now running a seven-day average of 4.7 percent positive tests, below the 5 percent marker that starts to get officials’ attention, Malcolm said.

Still, she said, there’s “no question that our metrics have gone in a less positive direction in the last couple weeks.”

Walz continues to weigh statewide mask order

Cases have been trending upward in Minnesota for several weeks, in all parts of the state — but especially in the Twin Cities suburbs. Minnesota had nearly 1,500 more active COVID-19 cases than it did in mid-June, according to data released Friday.

A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date.

Last week, for the first time, the suburban counties of Dakota, Washington, Anoka, Scott and Carver had about as many new cases per capita as Hennepin and Ramsey counties. In mid-June, the five suburban counties were averaging about 70 new cases per day. Over the past week, they averaged 132 new cases per day.

Those numbers and other factors have Gov. Tim Walz considering a statewide order requiring Minnesotans to wear masks in indoor facilities.

Medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department continue to support a statewide mask-mandate as the cities Winona, Rochester and Mankato have become the latest cities to make such orders on a local level. Minneapolis, St. Paul and Edina have also mandated mask-wearing in the cities’ public spaces.

A graph showing the percentage of cases tested and their current status.

On Monday night, the Duluth City Council is scheduled to take up the question of whether to require people to wear face coverings when they’re in public spaces.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit businesses or organizations from allowing people over the age of 10 inside their doors without wearing masks.

It includes an exemption for people who are “unable to wear face coverings for genuine medical reasons.” And it says people can take off face masks while eating or drinking at a restaurant.

Walz on Monday expressed concern that Minnesotans were lagging in efforts to wear masks to stem the spread. However, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, warned a statewide mandate would be a mistake.

Malcolm told reporters that Walz was still considering a statewide mask order and asked for research showing the effect of those policies in other states. “He is really looking at all the data from all the angles,” Malcolm added.

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 987 confirmed cases as of Monday. Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,694 confirmed cases as of Monday with six deaths. About 1 in 13 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus.

There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Monday, confirmed cases were at 2,536 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus.

As of Monday, the Health Department reported 595 people have now tested positive in the county. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Lyon County (351 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall. Cases the past few weeks have also grown in Cottonwood County (142 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom in southern Minnesota, but the counts there have since stabilized.

Developments from around the state

Bar-driven outbreak reported in Rochester

Olmsted County public health officials say they’ve identified more than 25 cases of coronavirus among people bar-hopping in downtown Rochester.

Public health officials are asking people who went to bars in downtown Rochester between June 26 and July 7 get tested for coronavirus.

Officials said they have identified a cluster of cases that they can’t pin to any specific bar because those who tested positive went to multiple locations. They said that the cases so far have involved alcohol consumption, and no mask-wearing or social distancing.

One bar, Dooley’s Pub, closed down last week after several staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Public health officials say there’s been an uptick in cases teens and 20-year-olds in recent weeks. Meanwhile, state public health officials have been tracking similar clusters in other parts of Minnesota, including Mankato, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Survey signals support for returning kids to school

An informal, nonscientific survey of Minnesotan families shows 64 percent of those responding indicating they’d feel comfortable sending their students back into school buildings this fall.

Less than 12 percent said they would not feel comfortable sending their kids back to school. Most cited concerns about public health as the reason, according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The agency said it collected more than 130,000 completed responses between June 15 and July 6. State officials are expected to announce plans for the 2020-21 public school year no later than the week of July 27.

— MPR News Staff

Top headlines

Long-term care opens doors to outside caregivers after months of COVID-19 closures: The Minnesota Department of Health put out new guidance Friday that allows residents to designate one person, identified as an “essential caregiver,” to visit inside the residence and to have physical contact with them. What is your family planning to do under the new guidance? Share your story with us here.

Unscientific survey shows most MN families want in-person school, despise distance learning: A new survey from the Minnesota Department of Education shows a majority of families had a bad experience with distance learning and want schools to resume in-person classes in the fall. But the results are just a sampling — and hardly scientific.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based off Minnesota Department of Health cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.