Gov. Tim Walz's next move could come this week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continued to show modest but steady growth in Minnesota with the addition on Monday of 499 lab-confirmed cases and two deaths.
The latest figures from the Minnesota Department of Health brought the state's totals in the pandemic to 42,772 known cases and 1,504 deaths.
Minnesota is continuing to show positive trends with respect to the most severe consequences of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by exposure to a novel coronavirus. The state reported on Monday that 247 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, and that 114 of those hospitalized needed intensive care. Both numbers remain below the state's highs in late May.
Minnesota also has now reported fewer than 10 deaths from COVID-19 for 10 days in a row. The two deaths reported Monday — both involving people 80 or older — represented the lowest daily total since April 13.
Deaths remain more common among people who are older or have underlying health conditions. People 70 and older make up only 10% of known cases but 81% of deaths. Only two deaths have been reported among people 29 and younger, even though they make up 35% of the state's known infections.
State health officials worry that a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases among young adults and teenagers could spread the virus to people at higher risk — which would result in more deaths and hospitalizations.
Mondays have typically had lower case counts due to reduced testing activity on the weekends. This Monday's total of 499 cases was lower than daily counts last week, but higher than the total on any other Monday since May.
The state's dial back dashboard shows Minnesota with a rate of about eight new cases per day per 100,000 people — above its goal of five cases per day. The daily case rate is one measure state health officials are considering regarding the state of the pandemic in Minnesota and whether to add or reduce social restrictions to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Walz's last major action permitted the limited reopening on June 10 of indoor bars and restaurants, as well as fitness clubs and entertainment venues. Options before him include the further reopening of businesses with expanded indoor capacities and fewer restrictions.
On the other hand, the governor also is eyeing a mask-wearing mandate that has already been imposed in more than 20 states to slow transmission of the virus. Some states have required masks in indoor locations while others have required them in all public places in which people can't maintain a social distance of 6 feet from one another.
Outbreaks tied to bars have also prompted governmental agencies in other states to limit the hours of such establishments. The city of Chicago last week ordered that bars must close as of midnight. That city also requires quarantines for anyone traveling from 14 states where new case rates are higher than 15 per 100,000 people.
Andy Slavitt, a health policy expert from Edina and former Medicare administrator, tweeted on Sunday that he had advised Walz and state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm to close indoor sections of bars again based on trends in COVID-19 case growth.
"Bars have been the source of most of the major community hot spots," he wrote. "From NY to CA to TX to AZ, they represent the clearest discernible difference in accelerating case growth ... When they are open, spread increases. When they close, they go down. This is not a secret."
In Minnesota, state health officials have identified clusters of COVID-19 cases involving at least 710 people whose virus transmission could have occurred in bars in Minneapolis, Mankato, St. Cloud, Rochester and New Prague.