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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: School guidance shifts with case counts

David H. Montgomery and MPR News Staff

State health officials last week said they’d use county-level COVID-19 data as the starting point to help school districts decide whether to bring kids back into their buildings this fall. Newly updated data, though, is already altering the landscape.

Fresh numbers released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health have changed the guidance for school reopening in 27 counties — if the school year started today.

Rising COVID-19 caseloads mean schools in seven counties are recommended to use more distance learning than the original recommendations issued last week.

For example, Sherburne County last week reported 15.8 cases per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period, which meant the state recommended its schools have in-person education for grade schoolers and a mix of in-person and distance learning for secondary students.

An extra week of rising cases, however, brought Sherburne up to 23.3 cases per 10,000 residents over 14 days — which brings a recommendation of hybrid learning for all students.

The other six counties to see their reopening recommendations downgraded were Faribault, Martin, Norman, Red Lake and Rock counties.

In 20 counties, falling case counts mean a change in recommendation for the better in terms of bringing kids back to buildings.

Carver County, for example, fell from 20.8 cases per 10,000 residents over 14 days last week to 17.9 this week, moving it from hybrid learning for all students to in-person learning for elementary school.

These metrics, based on COVID-19 cases, form the starting point as districts and the Health Department negotiate specific learning models for each district.

The case figures fueling these recommendations are somewhat out of date, because of how the agency is calculating its numbers.

The recommendations releases Thursday are based on case data from between July 12 and July 25, while next week will see updated data based on cases from July 19 to Aug. 1.

New cases jump; hospitalizations rise
The updated county data came Thursday as the Health Department reported 867 new COVID-19 cases in Minnesota — one of the highest daily counts in the pandemic.

The number of people currently hospitalized (319) and the subset needing intensive care (153) also rose. Friday marked the seventh straight day the department reported more than 300 people still hospitalized, the first time that’s happened since late June.

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics in Minnesota:

• 58,640 cases confirmed (867 new) via 1,105,094 tests
• 1,636 deaths (seven new)
• 5,421 cases requiring hospitalization
• 319 people remain hospitalized; 153 in intensive care
• 51,604 patients no longer needing isolation