Minnesota health officials have changed the report card by which they grade the state’s response to COVID-19 — adding a goal of reducing the number of new cases reported each day from 435 over the past week to about 283.
The ambitious target comes as other states report rising COVID-19 case counts, and Minnesota risks a surge of its own following the family and group gatherings over the holiday weekend that could have spread the coronavirus that causes the infectious disease.
Health officials over the July 4th weekend offered some optimistic reports of people and businesses adhering to social distancing requirements, but it will take two or more weeks to assess any effect of holiday celebrations on the pandemic, said Jan Malcolm, state health commissioner.
“We’re certainly aware there were a lot of get-togethers, and the good news is hopefully those were mostly outdoors” where the virus doesn’t seem to spread as easily, Malcolm said. “But that doesn’t completely negate the concern about really prolonged contact in close quarters, so we will be watching.”
The new state dashboard measure of daily cases per 100,000 people replaces an old measure that looked at the number of days in which total cases had doubled in the state.
That doubling figure was meaningful earlier in the pandemic when case growth first started to accelerate but no longer offers much information on the state’s progress, Malcolm said. The new case growth measure mimics those being used in other states and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, giving Minnesota a source of comparison for its performance.
“It’s a better way to look at where we are in the epidemic,” Malcolm said.
Minnesota on Monday set a target of no more than 5 cases per 100,000 people per day, which equates to about 283 cases found through diagnostic testing per day. At the moment, the state’s rate is about 7.7 cases per 100,000 people per day.
New York and New Jersey recently advised incoming travelers to quarantine themselves for 14 days if they came from states with a new case rate of 10 or more per 100,000 people per day. Chicago set fines for violations of its new quarantine order for anyone arriving from states where the rate is 15 or more per 100,000 people per day.
The daily case growth measure is one of five that will help Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota health leaders in policy decisions regarding the pandemic.
Walz this week is debating whether to mandate that people wear masks in indoor public spaces to try to slow the virus transmission that occurs from face-to-face contact. He also must assess whether outbreaks in a handful of bars and restaurants necessitate renewed restrictions on these businesses, which were allowed to reopen only at limited capacities on June 10.
On the other hand, the governor also has the option of further loosening restrictions following the end of a statewide stay-at-home order on May 18 and the gradual, limited reopening of businesses, restaurants, fitness clubs and entertainment venues in June.
The next phase of reopening Minnesota would expand the capacities at which most businesses could operate amid the pandemic but would still cap large public gatherings at no more than 250 people.
Minnesota also is grading itself on the percentage of COVID-19 tests in the state that are positive, the percentage of infections with known transmission sources and the rate of new hospital admissions for the disease. The state is meeting the first two goals and is close to meeting the third. It also is meeting its daily COVID-19 testing goals, despite increasing the minimum target from 50 tests per 10,000 people per day to 100.
Minnesota is conducting about 162 tests per 10,000 residents each day.
Testing has identified 38,569 cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota since the start of the pandemic. That includes 33,907 people who have recovered to the point that they are no longer considered risks for infecting others but does not include people with mild or no symptoms who never got tested.
Federal health officials believe every case found by testing represents another 10 cases that went undetected.
Recent case growth in Minnesota and other states has been concentrated among teens and young adults.
The number of cases detected in Minnesotans aged 5 to 19 has nearly doubled from 1,752 on June 1 to 3,488 on Monday, while the number of cases among Minnesotans in their 20s has increased nearly 80% from 4,660 to 8,474 in the same time frame.
Severe COVID-19 cases are less common in this age group. Of all COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota, only two involved people 29 or younger. People 70 and older make up more than 80% of the deaths, even though they represent only 11% of the state’s cases. The total of 1,474 COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota include 1,156 residents of long-term care or assisted-living facilities.
The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday was 258 — including 125 people needing intensive care — which represents the lowest total since April 22.
Doctors have learned more about how to treat COVID-19, and long-term care facilities have done a better job of preventing the virus from spreading to their highly vulnerable residents who are likely to need hospital care, said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist.
The growth in cases among young adults might not be resulting in more deaths right now, but it could if those people spread the virus to elderly people at greater risk, she stressed.
“We worry,” she said, “that maybe next week or the week after, when transmission occurs to older people, we might see an increase in hospitalizations.”