State health officials again ratcheted up the worry that COVID-19 trends in Minnesota are headed the wrong way on Monday, just days before Gov. Tim Walz was to announce his plan for the upcoming school year.
With more than 2,000 new cases confirmed over the past few days, authorities implored Minnesotans to stay vigilant, wear masks and keep social distancing so the state does not suffer the problems seen now in Florida, Texas and other states struggling to control outbreaks.
"We're not asking Minnesotans to mask up for the Health Department,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters. “We're asking them to mask up for their own health.”
Compliance with the Minnesota’s statewide mask order is critical, she added: “We do feel like we’re in sort of a vulnerable state. But we feel like if Minnesotans can understand the importance of complying with the guidance that is out there and the current executive orders, we can impact these rates within a few weeks.”
Her remarks came hours after the latest Health Department statistics on COVID-19 offered a mixed bag of hope and concern, with daily death counts staying in single digits even as cases jump.
Current hospitalizations fell from the prior day — but the number hospitalized and needing intensive care rose to its highest point in three weeks. Officials in recent weeks have been bracing Minnesotans to expect more hospitalizations and ICU cases as new confirmed cases of the disease jumped.
Malcolm indicated officials were increasingly concerned about the rise in community spread of the disease.
Added Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director: “There could be a time when we do need to dial back if the things that we’re seeing continue to go in an unfavorable manner.”
While Minnesota’s mask mandate took effect Saturday, Ehresmann said it would be several weeks before officials could assess its impact.
Here are the latest coronavirus statistics:
51,803 cases confirmed (650 new) via 970,726 tests
1,576 deaths (two new)
4,961 cases requiring hospitalization
257 people remain hospitalized; 126 in intensive care
45,198 patients no longer requiring isolation
Walz schools announcement Thursday
The governor is expected to announce a plan Thursday on bringing kids back into school buildings. The state Education Department has told school leaders to pretty much prepare for anything, including some combination of in-school and online instruction.
“Nobody wants kids in school more than me,” and state officials have been working for months on how to do that safely, Walz, a former high school teacher, said recently.
“We’re doing everything possible to get those kids back in those classrooms … to keep them there but also have some nimbleness” to move back to an online or hybrid model if cases start to climb, he said, adding: “This is gonna be a challenge.”
The DFL governor has suggested in recent days that there won’t be a uniform order that will determine whether school buildings reopen. On KFGO radio Friday, Walz reinforced that local decisions are important and it'll be up to school leaders to implement safety guidelines.
"It won't necessarily look the same everywhere,” he said earlier this week, “but the outcomes need to be the same — kids and staff safe in that learning environment.”
On Monday, though, Malcolm told reporters that the case jumps the past few weeks have made the analysis on schools even more challenging.
Cases growing across age brackets, up north
State health officials continue to worry about the recent spike of coronavirus cases in younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable populations.
Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic, with more than 12,000. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.
Health investigators are starting to see more cases in 30- and 40-somethings as more people get together for family gatherings and summer fun without social distancing, Ehresmann said earlier in the week.
It’s not the same as the situation the past few weeks where people in their 20s meeting in bars drove the increases. Now, analysts are seeing an evolution in the “larger, gradual increase in social activities,” she added.
On Friday, Ehresmann reiterated the point, urging people to take responsibility for wearing masks, social distancing and otherwise working to help stem the spread.
“Consider all the roles you play” in all daily interactions, she cautioned, noting that people who might not worry about themselves should worry about infecting vulnerable family members and coworkers.
Regionally, newly reported cases have been driven recently by the Twin Cities and its suburbs.
New cases have also been rising in northern Minnesota.
Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past week and a half, from 53 to 122 on Friday. That jumped again to 157 as of Monday.
Ehresmann last week said the Beltrami case increase is tied to spread from athletic events and other public gatherings.