Latest on COVID-19 in MN: ‘We are at a worrisome point’

Published 8:43 am Thursday, July 16, 2020

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MPR News Staff

State health officials are cautioning families to make plans in case children’s caregivers fall ill from COVID-19 as the number of cases continues to climbing, warning that all Minnesotans must do more to halt the virus’ spread.

“We are, in fact, at a worrisome point that our numbers are going up,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state epidemiologist, said of the two-week trend in daily case counts. “This really is a moment for all of us to take a step back and think about what we can do to slow transmission.”

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So far, state leaders have emphasized personal responsibility when it comes to mask-wearing, social distancing and hygiene. DFL Gov. Tim Walz is weighing a statewide mask mandate, but has yet to enact one — despite pleas from medical groups and the state Health Department.

Walz himself expressed concern earlier this week that Minnesotans were lagging on their mask-wearing. But Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, have said a statewide mandate would be a mistake.

As mask use appears to lag, cases continue to tick up and the state is encouraging parents to make a plan in case they or their kids’ caregivers fall ill with COVID-19. Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said parents should pull together information on children’s medical and educational needs, routines and comforts. The Health Department has posted “make a plan” guidance on its website.

Lynfield said it will be “a long time in the best scenario” before an effective COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. Until then, she said, people shouldn’t let down their guard, no matter how tired they are of wearing a mask.

“It is really up to us to make the choice to limit the spread,” Lynfield said. “The virus is out there. We want to be able to live in a pandemic as best we can.”

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics:

•43,742 cases confirmed (578 new) via 790,497 tests
• 1,518 deaths (8 new)
• 4,495 cases requiring hospitalization
• 254 people remain hospitalized; 106 in intensive care
• 38,179 patients no longer requiring isolation
• 20-somethings drive new cases

The newest counts come as state health officials continue to worry about the recent spike of coronavirus cases in younger Minnesotans, with current fears including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to more vulnerable populations.

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases, with more than 10,000 since the outbreak started. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now below 38 years old.

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 Ehresmann, adding that young adults “don’t live in a vacuum.”

Amid recent case upticks, worries over another PPE shortage
State health officials on Wednesday also noted that there are some personal protective equipment supply issues popping up again globally. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that hospitals have their own supplies in addition to a shared stockpile, and that the state currently has about 106 days worth of N95 respirator masks and 60 days of nonlatex gloves.

She said there has been some testing supplies shortages in recent days, and she expects similar shortages with personal protective equipment.

“We’re not assuming we have enough,” she said, “we do have a very good supply right now, but because of what we’re seeing with global supply chain issues reemerging, we’re continuing to look to source additional supplies of some of the high quality masks and gowns and the like that we anticipate needing as this pandemic evolves.”

Malcolm said she expects the demand to grow in the fall as the flu season begins.

Walz working on schools plan
The governor on Wednesday said he is working on a plan to get K-12 students back in classrooms safely. In an interview with WCCO, Walz said he planned to spend some of his day working on a plan for the upcoming academic year.

Walz and other state leaders have told schools to prepare for three different scenarios for resuming school in the fall: distance learning, in-person learning or a hybrid of the two approaches. Officials have said that they will announce by the end of July which scenario districts and charters should choose.