Twenty-six COVID-19 deaths and 5,945 new coronavirus infections were reported by Minnesota health authorities on Tuesday amid signs of a worsening pandemic across the state.
Hospitalizations climbed to another record number — with 1,669 people with COVID-19 occupying inpatients beds in Minnesota and 346 needing intensive care, according to the state's pandemic response dashboard. COVID-19 patients now make up more than 30% of the 1,115 critically ill patients occupying 1,455 immediately available ICU beds.
Minnesota for weeks had been the hole in the doughnut — reporting average infection growth while being circled by five border states with the nation's worst rates — but no longer. Minnesota's rate of 1,171 new infections per million people per day on the COVID Exit Strategy website remains behind the Dakotas but comparable to the rates in Iowa and Wisconsin.
"Here in Minnesota, we have not seen anything like the numbers we are seeing," said Gov. Tim Walz, who planned to participate in a media briefing on Tuesday to show the human toll of the pandemic.
Also scheduled to participate are Dr. Jon Cole, an HCMC physician who suffered COVID-19 along with his family, and Dana and Joel Asche, whose teenage son has been hospitalized with the multisystem inflammatory syndrome that can occur when children are exposed to the virus.
Minnesota's totals in the pandemic have reached 2,943 COVID-19 deaths and 236,949 diagnosed infections. More than 80% of COVID-19 deaths have involved people 70 or older, and the majority have involved residents of long-term care facilities. Tuesday's reported deaths included 11 people who lived in private residences, 12 who lived in long-term care and three who were in behavioral health group homes.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm urged people to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through a combination of mask-wearing, social distancing, staying home when sick and avoiding large crowds. While clinical trials have shown promise for a COVID-19 vaccine, she said initial distribution to health care workers and high-risk individuals is still months away and that broad public distribution won't be until late winter or early spring in 2021.
The state already took "dial back" steps last week to limit viral transmission opportunities by ordering bars and restaurants closed by 10 p.m. for anything but takeout service — based on evidence that larger outbreaks are more likely to occur in these later hours when patrons become less cautious.
Social outbreak data released by the Minnesota Department of Health on Monday identified 139 bars or restaurants where outbreaks have likely resulted in seven or more infections. Those outbreaks have been linked to 2,766 infections of customers, who then had the potential to spread the virus secondarily in their communities.
The state also curtailed the sizes of receptions after weddings and funerals, which together have been linked to 130 outbreaks and 1,121 infections.
Malcolm said she has advised the governor to suspend amateur athletics as well — with an announcement coming as soon as Wednesday. The latest data showed 192 outbreaks and 780 infections linked to sports.
Outbreaks by sport include 46 for hockey, 41 for volleyball, 35 for football, 20 for basketball and 15 for soccer, said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director.
Minnesota's dashboard lists a positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing at 14.9%, compared to 4.9% at the start of October. The rising rate is an indication that the virus is spreading broadly, regardless of the number of tests performed.
The state also readjusted its target threshold from a positivity rate of no more than 15% to no more than 10% — meaning that Minnesota is now falling short on four of its five goals for measuring its progress in the pandemic.
Malcolm said a predictive site maintained at Georgia Tech underscores the rising risk of viral spread in groups. In a group of 10 people in Hennepin County right now, the website predicts a 32% chance that one person has COVID-19. In a group of 50, that probability rises to 86%.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744