After seeing Minnesota’s COVID-19 case numbers jump following Memorial Day and July 4th, state officials hope to avoid seeing a similar spike after Labor Day weekend.
But after months of urging residents to continue mask-wearing and social distancing, state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann acknowledged some may drop their guard.
“We are concerned. We have been resting at pretty high levels of the disease going for weeks on end and continuing to see such high numbers since July is really problematic,” Ehresmann said. “We want to alert people and make sure going into the holiday weekend that they are paying attention.”
Another 10 people in Minnesota have died of COVID-19 and there were 856 newly confirmed cases of the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Friday.
The state has reported 78,966 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 as the pandemic enters its seventh month. People at greatest risk from COVID-19 include those 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities and those with underlying medical conditions. Long-term care facility residents accounted for 1,354 of the state’s 1,847 deaths related to the virus.
But the 20-24 age group had the most reported cases, with 10,563, Health Department officials said.
As college students return to campuses — and to nearby bars and restaurants — Ehresmann said it’s crucial that students and patrons take appropriate precautions. Following recommendations now means reopening more favorite places later, she said.
“There is so much riding on this,” Ehresmann said.
While most bar and restaurant owners are faithfully following state guidelines in an effort to stay open, she acknowledged some are being thwarted by those customers unwilling to change their behavior.
“We have owners and managers trying to do the right thing, but it’s the patrons who are causing the problems,” she said. “The reality is that some people who want to frequent these establishments are really shooting themselves in the foot.”
Thursday night, a line of about 30 people stood outside Plums Bar & Grill in St. Paul, unable to enter. Owner Dan McQuillan said that’s because he has dramatically reduced capacity since June 1 to comply with state rules. There was little he could do to keep people from congregating outside on a public sidewalk, he said — prompting a post on social media.
“I’m trying to do the right thing here,” McQuillan said.
Minnesota officials also are concerned with recent sizable increases in cases in neighboring states, including South Dakota and Iowa. Ehresmann said those states bear watching, with the possibility they could affect Minnesota.
“The reality is that every outbreak leads to more outbreaks,” she said.
More than 70,500 Minnesotans who contracted the illness are recovering or no longer need to be isolated, the Health Department said.
Three of the newly reported deaths were in Hennepin County, with two each in Martin, Anoka and Ramsey counties and one in Marshall County. People living in long-term care facilities accounted for six of the 10 new deaths, state health officials said.
As of Friday, 274 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, 138 of them in intensive care. To date, 6,635 patients have been hospitalized in Minnesota.
Results are based on 1,558,831 tests completed. On Thursday, the statewide positivity rate was 5.5%. But officials said the numbers don’t give the complete picture.
Health problems that increase COVID-19 risks range from lung disease and serious heart conditions to severe obesity and diabetes. People undergoing treatment for failing kidneys also run a greater risk, as do those with cancer and other conditions where treatments suppress immune systems.
Most patients with COVID-19 don’t need to be hospitalized. The illness usually causes mild or moderate sickness; studies suggest that up to 45% of those who are infected won’t have symptoms.
The virus has infected more than 6 million people in the United States and resulted in more than 186,000 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.