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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Virus could surge again in fall, along with flu

MPR News Staff

The coronavirus could surge again in the fall and winter, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday.

The state’s COVID-19 response this spring to minimize indoor contact in restaurants, bars and other gathering spaces also effectively eliminated the typical influenza season, she said, but added that the state was likely in the fall to face influenza and COVID-19 cycles together as people return to social spaces.

“That will make it more challenging,” she said.

Her warnings for fall come as the death tolls rose by 19. However, the count of people currently hospitalized and the number needing intensive care continued to fall.

The number of daily intensive cases — a closely watched metric as officials try to manage the disease’s spread so it doesn’t overwhelm the care system — is the lowest it’s been in a month.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday the state would increasingly rely on the “good decisions” of individual Minnesotans to wear masks, keep their distance in public and take other measures to keep themselves and their neighbors safe as restrictions ease.

The newest numbers come as COVID-19 restrictions take a major step back Wednesday with Gov. Tim Walz letting a host of businesses reopen — including indoor bar and restaurant service at limited capacity.

While there has been a recent, positive trend in hospitalizations and ICU cases, health officials cautioned people not to be complacent.

Malcolm warned that the virus remains unpredictable and that Minnesotans should prepare for “many more months of the disease being present in our communities.”

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics:

28,869 cases confirmed via 369,795 tests
1,236 deaths
3,482 cases requiring hospitalization
427 people remain hospitalized; 193 in intensive care
24,675 patients no longer needing isolation

No guidance yet on K-12 school year

Minnesota health officials said K-12 public school leaders should still be preparing multiple scenarios to start the school year.

Ehresmann said her agency and the Education Department are in consultation about how the coronavirus could affect the next school year. It could be midsummer before districts learn if they’ll have to continue distance learning or can reopen their buildings.

“Part of the goal is to make sure that there are options available for the fall so that there is time to plan,” she said, “so that we can be nimble if we have to make adaptations given a change in how the virus behaves.

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.

In southwestern Minnesota’s Nobles County, where an outbreak hit Worthington’s massive JBS pork plant, about 1 in 15 people have tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases.

By Wednesday, there were 1,599 confirmed cases, although the increases are coming at a much slower rate than earlier in the epidemic.

The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since partially 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 Wednesday, confirmed cases were at 2,081 with 17 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.

On Wednesday, the Health Department reported 534 people have now tested positive in the county.

While the counts in those counties are high relative to their population, officials say the growth in new cases in those areas appears to be stabilizing.

Mower County in southern Minnesota, another county with a large meatpacking presence, is becoming a hot spot.

Mower County has jumped the past few weeks, reporting a total of 574 positive COVID-19 cases now with two deaths as of Wednesday. The Rochester, Minn., Post-Bulletin reported recently that two meat plants in Austin, Minn., are seeing COVID-19 cases rise rapidly.