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2 more COVID-19 deaths; 650 new cases

Minnesota Health Department data on COVID-19 remains a mixed bag of hope and worry, with daily death counts staying in single digits even as the number of newly confirmed cases continues a monthlong upswing.

The agency on Monday reported two additional Minnesota deaths, bringing the total to 1,576 since the pandemic began. Current hospitalizations (257) fell from the prior day — but the number hospitalized and needing intensive care (126) rose to its highest point in three weeks.

State public health leaders are expected to brief reporters at 2 p.m. on the latest efforts to stem the spread of the disease.

Officials in recent weeks have been bracing Minnesotans to expect more hospitalizations and ICU cases as new confirmed cases of the disease jumped.

The newest numbers came two days after Gov. Tim Walz’s statewide mask-wearing order took effect, intended as a way to stem the spread of COVID-19 and put the state on a path back to normalcy.

If 90 to 95 percent of Minnesotans complied, businesses could stay open, kids could return safely to school buildings, and we “get back that life that we all miss so much,” he said.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, on Friday said it would be several weeks before officials could assess the impact of Minnesota’s new mask mandate.

“We kind of look at a 21-day window,” she said during Friday’s briefing. “We really are hoping, based on what’s been seen in other locations, that we’re going to see the positive impact of this mandate — but it won’t be instantaneous.”

Of the 51,803 confirmed cases of the disease, about 87 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Among the 1,576 deaths, about 77 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities, nearly all had underlying health problems.

Walz schools announcement Thursday

The governor is expected to announce a plan Thursday on bringing kids back into school buildings. The state Education Department has told school leaders to pretty much prepare for anything, including some combination of in-school and online instruction.

“Nobody wants kids in school more than me,” and state officials have been working for months on how to do that safely, Walz, a former high school teacher, said last week.

“We’re doing everything possible to get those kids back in those classrooms … to keep them there but also have some nimbleness” to move back to an online or hybrid model if cases start to climb, he said, adding: “This is gonna be a challenge.”

The DFL governor has suggested in recent days that there won’t be a uniform order that will determine whether school buildings reopen. On KFGO radio Friday, Walz reinforced that local decisions are important and it’ll be up to school leaders to implement safety guidelines.

“It won’t necessarily look the same everywhere,” he said earlier this week, “but the outcomes need to be the same — kids and staff safe in that learning environment.”

Cases growing across age brackets, up north

State health officials continue to worry about the recent spike of coronavirus cases in younger Minnesotans, including that those infected will inadvertently spread the virus to grandparents and other more vulnerable populations.

Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases in the pandemic, with more than 12,000. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 36 years old.

Health investigators are starting to see more cases in 30- and 40-somethings as more people get together for family gatherings and summer fun without social distancing, Ehresmann said earlier in the week.

It’s not the same as the situation the past few weeks where people in their 20s meeting in bars drove the increases. Now, analysts are seeing an evolution in the “larger, gradual increase in social activities,” she added.

On Friday, Ehresmann reiterated the point, urging people to take responsibility for wearing masks, social distancing and otherwise working to help stem the spread.

“Consider all the roles you play” in all daily interactions, she cautioned, noting that people who might not worry about themselves should worry about infecting vulnerable family members and coworkers.

Regionally, newly reported cases have been driven recently by the Twin Cities and its suburbs.

New cases have also been rising in northern Minnesota.

Cases in Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, have more than doubled in the past week and a half, from 53 to 122 on Friday. That jumped again to 157 as of Monday.

Ehresmann last week said that case increase is tied to spread from athletic events and other public gatherings.