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Is Minnesota riding a coronavirus crest?

By MPR News staff

So, where are we in the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s a question Minnesota health leaders get regularly but one they’re unable to answer as precisely as the public wants. That’s true again as the state finds itself in a recent cycle of moderate daily death counts but with a stubbornly persistent level of hospitalizations.

New daily confirmed cases appear to have moderated in recent days after weeks of steadily climbing, but the flattening case counts likely have more to do with a short-term drop in testing volume.

Despite the recent relative stability in the data, Minnesota’s count of active, confirmed cases were near late-May highs earlier this week.

While the state may be at or just below the crest of the current wave, experts say more waves are coming.

“I think it’s a familiar looking pattern,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters earlier this week.

“We have weeks of kind of building up, stabilize a bit, come down for a few weeks and then tend to head back up,” she said. “It’s a fairly stable situation, albeit at a higher level of cases than we saw in the last spring” because testing rates and community spread is higher now.

“We’re at a place where things are stable, but the concern is that we’re stable at a high rate of cases,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, added. “That’s something we’re continuing to watch.”

Here are the latest coronavirus statistics in Minnesota:

  • 66,061 cases confirmed (359 new) via 1,273,397 tests (6,836 new)
  • 1,721 deaths (nine new)
  • 5,932 cases requiring hospitalization
  • 304 people remain hospitalized; 154 in intensive care
  • 59,568 patients no longer needing isolation

Current hospitalizations remain far below a late-May peak but have flattened at a relatively high level — more than 300 daily cases on average during August.

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.

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.

“This is a bad time to throw a party, go on a group road trip or otherwise lighten up on COVID-19 precautions,” Ehresmann told reporters Friday as she called on students to “lay low before you go.”

“The pandemic is still a big problem and will likely become a bigger problem this fall,” she said. “The world has changed and wont be going back to normal at least for the next few months.”

The Health Department this week posted additional guidance to colleges on ways to reduce COVID-19 risk.

Cases grow in the south

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 on the rise for weeks, although they tapered off in the most recent report. Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, has seen a steady climb the past few weeks. The county reported 279 cases and one death as of Tuesday.

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 (278 cases), where more than 20 employees at a Seneca Foods plant in Glencoe were identified recently in an outbreak.