Another 763 COVID-19 cases and 9 deaths were reported Thursday in Minnesota, where a new mask-wearing mandate could take at least three weeks to show any change in the course of the pandemic.
The Minnesota Department of Health has in all reported 48,721 lab-confirmed infections with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and 1,561 deaths.
Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials said on Wednesday that they are concerned about the latest statistical indicators, including a rising positivity rate of diagnostic testing that suggests a rising spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The current rate of 4.7% is below the state target threshold of 15%, but the fact that it is increasing and nearing 5% is worrisome, said Jan Malcolm, state health commissioner. “We’re getting closer to that level which indicates there is more disease out there than we’re finding.”
Rising cases counts aren’t being matched for now with any increase in reported deaths. Minnesota has reported fewer than 10 COVID-19 deaths for 20 straight days, compared to the single-day high of 35 deaths reported during a peak of the pandemic on May 29.
Deaths reported Thursday included eight people 60 or older — with age being a risk factor for severe COVID-19 cases — and one person from Washington County in the 40 to 49 age range. The state on Wednesday had reported only the third COVID-19 death in the pandemic of someone in the 20 to 29 age range, and on Monday had reported the first death of a child.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 had declined from a May 28 peak of 606, but then started to increase in July. The state reported 282 hospitalizations on Thursday — the highest single-day total so far this month. However, the number of patients requiring intensive care declined from 119 on Wednesday to 107 on Thursday.
Malcolm said the recent trends in deaths and hospitalizations reflect infections and prevention efforts that occurred weeks earlier. “You see those things as a result of things that happened four weeks ago,” she said.
Walz similarly said that the state’s new mask-wearing mandate, which takes effect Saturday, might not show a measurable effect until August at the earliest.
While more studies suggest that mask-wearing provides “source control" — meaning that wearers are protecting others from their germs — state health officials said the practice must come in combination with frequent hand washing and social distancing.
Walz said he and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan had considered a mask-wearing mandate — versions of which are now in effect in roughly 30 states — since mid-April, but acted now in response to rising case counts in other parts of the country.
A mask mandate now could achieve the kind of progress that will allow for school reopenings in the fall, he added. Walz is expected to announce the state’s strategy for schools next week.
“We’re not out of the woods but we are in a solid position,” Walz said.
During Wednesday’s announcement, Flanagan discussed the loss of her brother to COVID-19 and the need for mask-wearing as a preventive measure — even in parts of the state that don’t have many cases yet.
The goal is “to prevent one or two case from becoming dozens,” she said, “and to prevent dozens from becoming deaths.”