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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Conditions improve; Walz decision nears – Minnesota Public Radio News

Dec 15, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

After one of the toughest stretches so far in the COVID-19 outbreak, Minnesota’s showing some hopeful signs. The key questions now: Will the good trends continue and how will they shape pandemic policy?

New caseloads and hospitalizations continue to retreat from their recent highs. Monday’s Health Department report showed 18 deaths, the lowest daily toll so far in what’s been an awful December — 869 deaths reported in the first 14 days.

Those numbers will influence a key decision this week for Gov. Tim Walz. His current order banning in-person bar and restaurant service runs until Friday. The governor last week said he wanted to see several more days of data before making a call on whether to extend that ban.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 4,462 deaths (18 new)

  • 381,841 positive cases (3,026 new), 347,077 off isolation (about 91 percent)

  • 4.9 million tests, 2.8 million people tested (about 49 percent of the population)

  • 8.6 percent seven-day positive test rate (officials find 5 percent or more concerning)

That decision is expected Wednesday. State officials haven’t signaled what Walz will do, but they’re trying to balance the recent improvement in conditions with the reality that the pandemic isn’t over.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday that the decreasing demand for beds for COVID-19 patients was an encouraging sign and an “extremely important welcome bit of respite” for hospitals and care workers.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

At the same time, she warned conditions were still volatile. “Clearly, we are still in a very precarious state. We’re certainly not out of the woods,” she said.

While down from its peak, the rate of new cases is still extremely high, she added. “We just need to keep watching the data very closely to make sure that the decrease in cases is not simply an artifact of less testing.”

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Vaccine shipments begin arriving in Minnesota

The newest numbers also come on the same day vaccine supplies began arriving in selected hospitals around the state — a bright spot in what’s been a bleak month.

On Monday, Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester said it received a shipment of about 975 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. The Twin Cities veterans hospital also confirmed receiving a supply.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

North Memorial Health Hospital in the Twin Cities and Sanford Bemidji Medical Center are also receiving supplies. The next shipments are expected to arrive in Rochester and other locations throughout the state on Tuesday.

Vaccinations are expected to begin next week, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director. Minnesota is still expected to receive 183,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the month, she added.

Ehresmann and Malcolm continued to urge Minnesotans to do all they can — wearing masks in public gathering spaces, socially distancing and staying home if you don’t feel well — to guard against the spread of the disease. They emphasized that the pandemic is not over yet.

Caseloads spread across age groups

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 74,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 40,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

New Minnesota COVID-19 cases by age, adjusted for population

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with nearly 30,000 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

Although 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.

It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.

New cases ebb in rural Minnesota

Central and western Minnesota drove much of the increase in new cases over the past five weeks, while Hennepin and Ramsey counties showed some of the slowest case growth in the state.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

After a spike in confirmed cases through much of November, all regions of the state have seen new case numbers plateau or start to fall.

Hot spots continues to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases

New caseloads still heaviest among people of color

In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths. That’s been especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent for much of the pandemic.

Even as new case counts ease from their peak a few weeks ago, the data shows people of color continue to be hit hardest.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by race

Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, officials say, especially among unauthorized immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.

Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.

Officials continue to plead with Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if they don’t feel well and otherwise stay vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.

No sign yet of Thanksgiving celebrations surge

Officials have been anticipating another wave of climbing caseloads and hospitalizations soon originating from Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. But it hasn’t happened yet.

State public health leaders last week said they were somewhat hopeful that many families heeded the public pleas to not gather in big groups for Thanksgiving, and so the worst-case scenarios of a post-holiday surge might not materialize.

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations

But they also cautioned that it was too soon to say a Thanksgiving celebration surge would not happen.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Even without a surge, Malcolm told reporters Friday that those numbers remain at alarmingly high levels.

“We are very grateful that the increases have slowed and come down a bit. (But) it boggles my mind, really, to think that 3,000 cases in a day feels like a good number to us,” she said. “This is still an extremely high rate of virus in the communities.”

Developments around the state

State suspends liquor license for bar that continued in-person service

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety on Sunday suspended the liquor license of an East Grand Forks, Minn., bar that had been operating in violation of state COVID-19 restrictions.

The Boardwalk Bar and Grill reopened to in-person service last week. Owner Jane Moss said her business would go under if she could not serve patrons in person.

The 60-day liquor license suspension announced Sunday is set to expire in February; another violation could result in a five-year license revocation.

The action follows a temporary restraining order issued Friday by a Polk County District Court judge, ordering the bar to close to in-person service.

Minnesota’s monthlong shutdown of in-person bar and restaurant service, along with youth sports and other activities, is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday. Gov. Tim Walz has not yet said whether he’ll extend the restrictions.

Representatives of a group called the Reopen Minnesota Coalition told KARE-TV on Friday that dozens of businesses plan to defy the governor’s order in the coming week.

— MPR News Staff

Top headlines

Legislature passes COVID aid bill for businesses, workers: Minnesota lawmakers passed a plan that will give $216 million to businesses struggling with COVID-19 restrictions and extends unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine land in Minnesota: Days after the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, doses of the Pfizer shot have arrived in Minnesota. The state expected 183,000 doses by the end of the month.

How one restaurateur is managing 2020: Many bars and restaurants are struggling to stay in business amidst the pandemic and Minnesota’s latest clamp down on the hospitality industry is making it even more difficult for them. The owner of a usually thriving Woodbury restaurant says they’re looking for help.

College students weigh the risks of holiday travel: Spikes in COVID-19 cases and statewide restrictions on gatherings mean what used to be typical trips home need to be considered carefully.

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.

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