State health authorities have been gently urging Minnesotans for months to do their part to help stem the spread of COVID-19, but they’re sharpening those messages now as the school year approaches for kids and college students.
As they implore people to do the right thing, they are increasingly expressing frustration over fresh reports of people doing the wrong thing.
Officials have heard anecdotal but “troubling reports” of parents who want their kids back in K-12 school buildings this fall so badly that they are choosing not to get their children tested for COVID-19, despite symptoms, for fear it will hurt their local school’s chances of teaching in-person, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist, said Wednesday.
“These behaviors are exactly the wrong thing to do if we want to get the COVID pandemic in Minnesota under control to the point where more in-person learning is possible,” she told reporters on a day the Health Department reported 17 more deaths — Minnesota’s highest daily count in two months.
Without providing details, she said the Health Department has been told of “multiple parties” where the virus has been transmitted and reiterated concerns college students are gathering to party before the school year starts and that may deliver COVID-19 to campuses.
As she and her colleagues have done for months, Lynfield implored Minnesotans to wear masks in public indoor spaces, socially distance and stay away from large gatherings to stem the disease’s spread, even as she acknowledged the overall fatigue facing Minnesotans who want to return to life before the disease.
“The way out of this mess is clear,” Lynfield said. “Health care professionals and health care providers have their roles to play — and so does every single Minnesotan. We need people to do the right thing.”
Here are the latest coronavirus statistics in Minnesota:
66,618 cases confirmed (567 new) via 1,308,264 tests (34,867 new)
1,738 deaths (17 new)
5,988 cases requiring hospitalization
321 people remain hospitalized; 152 in intensive care
60,242 patients no longer needing isolation
‘Respect the virus’
The state’s lived in a recent cycle of mostly moderate daily death counts but a stubbornly persistent level of hospitalizations. While the state may be at or just below the crest of the current wave, experts say more waves are coming.
“I really think people need to respect the virus, and I think people should be alarmed at the amount of community transmission we now have,” Lynfield said Wednesday.
Current hospitalizations remain far below a late-May peak, but the count has flattened at a relatively high level — more than 300 daily cases on average during August.
Southern Minnesota cases rising again
Regionally, the Twin Cities and its suburbs have been driving the counts of newly reported cases, although there’s an upswing now in southern Minnesota.
Northern Minnesota cases have been mostly on the rise since early July. Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, has seen a steady climb the past few weeks. The county reported 281 cases and one death as of Wednesday.
Meatpacking operations had been hot spots for big outbreaks in southwest, west-central and central Minnesota earlier in the pandemic.
New cases have slowed considerably in recent weeks, although the problem has resurfaced recently in McLeod County (279 cases), where more than 20 employees at a Seneca Foods plant in Glencoe were identified recently in an outbreak.
College concerns grow as fall semester nears
Worries continue about the growth of COVID-19 among younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable people.
People in their 20s remain the age group with the highest number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in the pandemic — more than 15,000. The median age of cases is 36.
State public health leaders are increasingly worried about college students joining end-of-summer parties and other gatherings that could feed the spread of COVID-19 and bring it onto campuses this fall.
Clusters of cases surfaced in late June around college bars, including in Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Cloud. Concerns over similar potential outbreaks are percolating again as the fall semester nears.
The Health Department this week posted additional guidance to colleges on ways to reduce COVID-19 risk.
Officials are asking students to self-isolate for two weeks before returning to campus, noting that the University of North Carolina, Notre Dame and Michigan State have been forced to retreat from their plans to teach in-person this fall amid campus outbreaks.
While colleges are working hard now to make their schools as safe as possible against the disease, Lynfield on Wednesday pressed students and young adults to take personal responsibility for their actions in the COVID-19 era.
“We’re not going to be able to test our way out of this pandemic,” she said. “Having a negative test doesn’t mean you now have a green light to go and socialize and not to keep the distance. We’re very concerned about the kind of messages — ‘Well, you can just keep testing and people can use their BC, before COVID, behavior.’ We have to work together.”
Developments from around the state
Sartell HealthPartners clinic closure will cost about 100 jobs
A central Minnesota medical clinic is set to lay off about 100 workers as it prepares to close its doors.
The St. Cloud Times reported Wednesday that the Sartell, Minn., HealthPartners clinic will close permanently this month. The HealthPartners’ dental clinic in the building will remain open, however.
Company officials say the clinic closure will result in about 100 layoffs. They say those workers are being encouraged to apply for other positions within the company.
HealthPartners announced in July that it would close seven clinics and two specialty centers in Minnesota, including the facility in Sartell. HealthPartners spokesperson Vince Rivard said then that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the organization to rethink how they can meet patient needs in new ways such as video visits and fewer physical sites will help reduce costs.
— The Associated Press
Remote classes, single dorm rooms: Macalester lays out fall plan
Macalester College is preparing to welcome first-year students to campus next week. The president of Macalester College says the school has instituted a number of precautions to prevent COVID-19 infections and transmissions among students who begin arriving next week.
President Suzanne Rivera told MPR News Wednesday that the first two weeks of instruction will be held remotely. And students will have the option to continue that type of learning as the semester continues, she said.
“This is making education more democratic. It’s more inclusive. It’s more responsive to people who have different learning styles,” said Rivera. “So, I actually hope that we retain a lot of these behaviors and these new tools that we’ve put in our toolboxes because it will make education better.”
She said other precautions include single-occupancy dorm rooms and the use of video conference technology for both curricular and extracurricular activities. The school won’t be able to accommodate all students at once, the president said.
Rivera said Macalester is renting hotel rooms in order to accommodate the introduction of more students to campus in October.
— Brandt Williams | MPR News
CDC report shows pandemic fuels threefold increase in rates of depression, anxiety: A report out this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 41 percent of adults reported adverse mental health conditions in June, with those reporting depression and anxiety up threefold from the same time last year. Dr. Jon Hallberg says anyone who needs help shouldn’t let the pandemic keep them from seeking it.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based off Minnesota Department of Health cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.