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COVID-19 in MN: Caseloads climbing; state backs CDC school masking guidance

By MPR News Staff

Minnesota’s summer swing in COVID-19 cases continues. While it remains relatively mild compared to earlier surges, Wednesday’s numbers make it clear the disease has at least one more punch to deliver.

New caseloads are trending at about 400 a day over the past seven reporting days, up dramatically from 150 two weeks ago. Active cases topped 3,000 for the first time since late May.

Hospital and intensive care needs are all heading higher again — 202 people are in hospital beds currently with COVID-19, including 56 needing intensive care — and the rate of tests coming back positive for the disease is edging back up toward the 5 percent threshold that officials find concerning.

Briefing reporters for the first time in nearly two months, state public health leaders on Monday placed a heavy emphasis on the need to boost vaccinations to head off the highly contagious delta strain, which they said is now driving 75 percent of new cases.

That growth “means trouble for people who never got vaccinated,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters. “The problem here is very much a problem of unvaccinated people getting exposed to an extremely contagious and dangerous virus.”

Malcolm noted state data showing that through July 15, 99.9 percent of Minnesotans who are fully vaccinated have not contracted the virus.

The state is in a much better position than in November or April thanks to vaccinations. Nearly 70 percent of state residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccination shot.

Officials hope to reach that 70-percent threshold by the end of August, although the rate of vaccination continues to sputter along.

Still, there are wide gaps in the vaccination rate among Minnesota regions. “Some parts of Minnesota are fairly well protected” while regions with low vaccination rates are “extremely vulnerable,” Malcolm said.

New deaths remain relatively low. There were four newly reported deaths posted Wednesday. Still, deaths are a lagging statistic that tends to rise following a surge in cases.

MN officials back CDC guidance to mask all school students, staff

Separately Wednesday, the Minnesota Health Department came out in support of new recommendations by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling on all students, staff and visitors to school buildings this fall to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

Health officials say the guidance is intended to “protect those who cannot yet be vaccinated or who remain at higher risk because of immune-comprised status or other conditions.”

The recommendations also urge anyone 12 and older to get vaccinated before returning to in-person school, sports and other activities, and that those not fully vaccinated should get tested regularly.

Officials stressed that these were recommendations and not mandates, and that local school leaders will make the decisions. The state had required masks for the last school year, but the general statewide mandate was lifted in May. Gov. Tim Walz does not currently have the authority to order mask wearing.

The CDC said Tuesday that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in parts of the United States where COVID is surging.