Minnesota hit another grim COVID-19 milestone Friday, reporting a record 101 deaths, a single-day tally that shattered the previous high mark of 72 fatalities.
The state has now seen 3,476 deaths since the pandemic arrived here in March, according to the state Department of Health. The fatalities reported Friday include victims from 39 of the state’s 87 counties.
The deaths were reported during a 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The numbers would normally have been publicly released Thursday but were delayed a day because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Death data reported to the state for both Thursday and Friday will be released Saturday, health officials said.
“This is a sad development but it is not a surprising development,” said Jan Malcolm, the state health commissioner. “For weeks we have been sounding the alarm about the dramatic growth in COVID-19 cases. We know that more cases lead to more hospitalizations and deaths, and today’s news reinforces that tragic pattern.”
The previous one-day high for deaths was set Nov. 19 and hit again Wednesday. The high one-day tallies could be part of a worrisome trend considering the resurgence in recent weeks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, said Dr. Mark Sannes, an infectious disease physician at HealthPartners.
“For much of the summer, we were able to do a good job and stay out of those facilities with new cases — and the number of deaths went down,” Sannes said. “As the number of new cases has exploded, really across all settings in the last month, I think we’re now seeing the long-term care facilities affected again, so the folks who are most at risk ... are starting to get COVID at a higher rate again. That’s the group that has always done worst with COVID-19.”
There are signs the case growth has leveled off over the past week, but Sannes said doctors are uncertain about where the trend goes from here. An order last week from Gov. Tim Walz to close dine-in restaurants, pause amateur sports and limit social gatherings to individual households should help curb the spread, he said, but there are worries of more trouble ahead given all the Thanksgiving weekend travel and family gatherings.
“We have a lot of behavioral things that we’re going to be trying to change over several weeks here,” Sannes said. “This is the time where I think all health care systems need help from the people living in the state to decrease the number of new infections, and we do that by decreasing the number of interactions with each other.”
Numbers released Friday showed a one-day net increase of 5,698 new cases on a volume of 55,853 newly completed tests, according to the Star Tribune’s coronavirus tracker.
The high volume of cases is affecting long-term care facilities and K-12 schools across the state. Data released Friday showed 695 congregate care facilities have reported at least one case involving a resident or staff member, up from 616 facilities the previous week.
The number of school buildings with five or more confirmed student or staff cases jumped from fewer than 200 to more than 260. The state counts cases when students or staff were in the building while infectious during a two-week reporting period.
Since the pandemic arrived in Minnesota in March, the state has reported 295,001 cases and 16,043 hospitalizations. Long-term care and assisted-living residents have accounted for 2,355 deaths, including 64 of those announced Friday.
Ninety-one of the deaths were in residents age 70 and older, according to Friday’s report; the oldest was over age 100. The youngest was a Hennepin County resident age 25 to 29.
Thirty-five of those who died lived in private residences. One lived in a group home/residential behavioral health facility and one lived in jail/prison.
“Every public activity now is more risky than it was even a few weeks ago, so the best way to slow this spread is for people to stay home and away from gatherings with those outside of our immediate household,” Malcolm said. “And we need everyone leaving their home to follow the basic recommendations every time. That means staying 6 feet apart from others, wearing your mask over your nose and mouth, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.”
The Health Department says its data release Saturday will include figures spanning two days — the numbers that typically would have been released Friday morning plus the normal Saturday data release.
That means the death report on Saturday could be even higher, Sannes said.
Hospitals have been stressed by a rising number of COVID patients as the virus sidelines more health care workers, primarily due to exposures in the community. The staffing challenge is about as bad this week as last week, Sannes said, but the high volume of hospitalized patients has stabilized.
“Right now, we’re able to discharge patients about as fast as we’re able to admit them,” he said.
The state’s hospital capacity dashboard showed COVID and non-COVID patients using 1,147 of the state’s 1,440 intensive care units beds on Thursday — slightly lower than last Friday when 1,173 ICU beds were in use. But while patients with COVID-19 occupied 197 ICU beds on Nov. 1, they occupied nearly double the beds — 386 — Thursday.
Hospitals have been managing the surge by transferring some noncritical patients to other medical centers. To help with the transfers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided 25 ambulances to back up local services in Minnesota.
The FEMA teams have handled more than 50 calls so far to transfer patients between hospitals or from a hospital to a convalescent home, said Tony Spector, executive director of the state’s Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board. The longest transport spanned 139 miles — an indication of how far a patient might travel as medical centers make room for the surge of COVID cases.
The Star Tribune tracker on Friday showed 277 new admissions at hospitals across the state, which is down from 322 new admissions reported Wednesday. Daily reports of new admissions typically include patients who have entered the hospital at some point over the last several days — not just on the most recent day.
COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus that surfaced late last year. People at greatest risk include those 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities and those with underlying medical conditions.
Those health problems 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. Most illnesses involve mild or moderate symptoms; many cases are asymptomatic.
Numbers released Friday show health care workers have accounted for 21,846 positive cases. Nearly 245,000 people who were infected no longer need to be isolated.