Minnesota is on a trajectory for one of the lowest spreads of the COVID-19 virus of any state come November, according to a new national modeling estimate, and could save nearly 200 lives by that time through universal mask usage.
The updated forecast this week by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle is based on the relative progress in Minnesota compared to others in its current rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Growth has ebbed over the past month in Minnesota both in COVID-19 deaths and in lab-confirmed infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday reported another eight deaths and 463 known infections, bringing the state’s total in the pandemic to 1,485 deaths and 39,589 known cases.
The daily numbers represent declines from the peak dates so far in the pandemic — with the state reporting a one-day high of 35 deaths on May 28, and 840 confirmed cases on May 23 — but case numbers have slightly increased over the past two weeks.
Health officials are concerned about a rise in infections involving teens and young adults, who are less likely to suffer severe COVID-19 cases but can spread the virus to older people at greater risk. Virus transmission during holiday weekend celebrations, for example, could show up in an increase in confirmed cases in mid-July.
The state also now knows of outbreaks related to seven bars in Minneapolis, Mankato and St. Cloud. Infections related to those bars have reached 457, and health officials are now eyeing an outbreak at an eighth bar in Rochester.
Any increased spread among young adults hasn’t resulted in more hospitalized COVID-19 cases, though. The state on Wednesday reported that 265 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, including 122 people who needed intensive care. Both numbers are well below daily peaks reported in late May.
The IHME model estimates that Minnesota as of Nov. 1 will have a rate of 5.94 infections per 100,000 people — a rate that includes both lab-confirmed infections but also asymptomatic infections that aren’t detected through testing. That is the ninth-lowest predicted rate among states.
The modeling estimates that Minnesota will have suffered 1,951 COVID-19 deaths by Nov. 1 if it continues with its current, gradual scaling back of restrictions on businesses and operating capacities at restaurants and other public locations. However, if the state imposed a mask-wearing requirement that was followed by 95% of the public, the predicted death toll would drop to 1,756.
Both are substantially improved forecasts when compared to prior estimates in late June, when the institute predicted 3,191 COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota by Oct. 1. IHME is one of several organizations using predictive modeling to forecast the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is one of the most closely watched by federal health officials.
New local modeling estimates by researchers at the health department and University of Minnesota are expected later this month.
Communities such as Edina have already imposed temporary indoor mask-wearing requirements to reduce face-to-face transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials this week are weighing whether to announce a statewide requirement.