• 72°

Daily COVID-19 update: 61 more deaths as difficult December continues

A brutal November for COVID-19 deaths continues to spill into December, the clearest and saddest story of the current surge.

The state Health Department on Friday reported 61 more deaths along with another 5,371 newly confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases. More than 250 deaths have been reported in the first four days of December, atop more than 1,100 deaths recorded in November.

New hospital admissions continue to ebb from Tuesday’s record seven-day average, but hospitalization levels remain high. Nearly 1,700 people were in hospitals with COVID-19 as of Thursday; more than 350 needed intensive care.

The newest numbers come as officials brace for another expected wave of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in coming weeks originating from Thanksgiving gatherings.

The deaths reported Friday raised Minnesota’s toll to 3,845. Among those who’ve died, about 67 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

Minnesota’s now recorded 338,973 cases of the disease in the pandemic. About 86 percent of the people in those cases have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Caseloads spread across age groups

New cases have been climbing over the past month among all age groups.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 65,500 since the pandemic began, including more than 35,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 26,500 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

Although less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations.

It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.

Gov. Tim Walz said recently the state has data showing infection rates rising around bar and restaurant activity after 9 p.m. among young adults, noting that people who have the virus but don’t have symptoms may be unwittingly spreading it.

It’s one of the reasons he’s ordered a ban on in-person service at bars and restaurants until Dec. 18.

Virus surges across rural Minnesota

Regionally, central and northern Minnesota have driven much of the recent increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.

The fastest growing outbreaks remain largely along the state’s western border with the Dakotas, where the virus is spreading unchecked. But new cases are rising everywhere in Minnesota.

Collectively, rural areas continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases per capita.

Deaths continue to be highest in greater Minnesota, with per capita death rates in the western part of the state four to five times higher than in the Twin Cities metro area.

Latino cases climb

In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hitcommunities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths. That’s been especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent for much of the pandemic.

Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, officials say, especially among unauthorized immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.

Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in Octoberrelative to population.

Cases among all races and ethnicities continue to rise, although currently the growth is slowest among Black Minnesotans, who reported the most new COVID-19 cases per capita for much of the spring and summer.

1 in 3 recent deaths tied to COVID

Minnesota’s daily death counts from COVID-19 have been especially hard to handle over the past two months. More than 1,100 people died in November alone, about 30 percent of the total in the entire pandemic.

It’s now killing Minnesotans at a rate far higher than any recent flu season. Roughly one-third of all recent deaths in Minnesota are tied to COVID-19.

In the past few years, respiratory illnesses have been a major contributing factor in about 5 to 10 percent of all deaths in Minnesota, depending on the time of year.

They accounted for around 20 percent of deaths during the state’s May COVID-19 wave. Now it’s even higher: nearly 40 percent of all deaths in Minnesota in recent weeks have been attributed to a respiratory illness such as COVID-19, influenza or pneumonia.

‘Challenging weeks ahead’

Public health officials have been trying to inject some hope into the difficult times. Earlier this week, they sketched out their plans to distribute vaccines as soon as they’re available. Federal vaccine approvals could start as soon as next week.

“We have been talking about the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s there and it’s getting closer all the time. But we do have to stay the course a bit longer before we reach it,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Tuesday.

The short-term direction of the pandemic, however, is still unclear. Analysts have cautioned not to read too much into the most recent figures because of the long holiday weekend.

Officials continue to plead with Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if they don’t feel well and otherwise stay vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.

Walz said recently he’d likely call on Minnesotans not to travel or gather for Christmas, adding there was “little reason” to expect a change in the trajectory of the virus in the next four weeks.

‘The honest, horrible truth’

State health systems are straining to staff hospital beds as COVID-19 cases grow and doctors, nurses and other care workers struggle to cope with illness among their own families and colleagues.

State officials for weeks have been raising concerns that health care workers are being sidelined by COVID-19, either by illness or exposure in their communities, or else having to care for loved ones.

Malcolm on Tuesday said 56 health care operations in the state have “staffing support needs … It is very definitely an ongoing challenge.”

The public needs to know the state’s health system is under serious stress, Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, president of Carris Health in western Minnesota, told MPR News Monday.

“We have to tell it like it is. We have to give people the honest, horrible truth of what we’re facing,” she said. “We have to tell them, ‘If you don’t do it — if you, the public, don’t do what you can do — we can’t save you because there are only so many people to take care of people out there.’”

South-central Minnesota cases

Freeborn County reported 29 new cases on Friday and has now had 1,651 total cases, according to the Freeborn County Public Health Department.

Of those cases, 173 are considered active cases. Eighty-two people have been hospitalized at some point during their illness.

The new cases included the following:

• One person between 0 and 4

• Two people ages 5 to 9

• One person between 10 and 14

• Two people between 15 and 19

• Four people in their 20s

• Five people in their 30s

• Three people in their 40s

• Two people in their 50s

• Four people in their 60s

• Three people in their 70s

• Two people in their 80s

The following are updates from other area counties:

• Faribault County: 12 new lab-confirmed cases; 622 total cases

• Mower County: 41 new lab-confirmed cases, one probable case; 2,791 total cases

• Steele County: 45 new lab-confirmed cases; 2,147 total cases

• Waseca County: 20 new lab-confirmed cases; 1,453 total cases

 

Minnesota COVID-19 cases, deaths

County Total confirmed cases Total probable cases Total cases Total deaths
Aitkin 801 9 810 30
Anoka 22,624 1,264 23,888 238
Becker 2,224 23 2,247 21
Beltrami 2,287 58 2,345 18
Benton 3,172 91 3,263 56
Big Stone 341 7 348 2
Blue Earth 4,353 9 4,362 17
Brown 1,568 21 1,589 15
Carlton 1,857 199 2,056 18
Carver 5,062 130 5,192 15
Cass 1,535 12 1,547 12
Chippewa 987 12 999 9
Chisago 3,262 119 3,381 17
Clay 5,318 37 5,355 62
Clearwater 557 8 565 10
Cook 83 0 83 0
Cottonwood 919 48 967 4
Crow Wing 3,856 39 3,895 40
Dakota 23,483 478 23,961 202
Dodge 940 0 940 1
Douglas 2,810 72 2,882 41
Faribault 621 1 622 3
Fillmore 773 5 778 0
Freeborn 1,643 8 1,651 7
Goodhue 2,253 10 2,263 33
Grant 305 1 306 6
Hennepin 69,881 1,311 71,192 1,153
Houston 785 28 813 4
Hubbard 1,200 13 1,213 29
Isanti 1,968 101 2,069 19
Itasca 2,092 14 2,106 24
Jackson 536 10 546 1
Kanabec 699 10 709 14
Kandiyohi 4,470 34 4,504 30
Kittson 230 28 258 9
Koochiching 421 7 428 6
Lac qui Parle 417 8 425 4
Lake 420 37 457 8
Lake of the Woods 104 5 109 1
Le Sueur 1,592 14 1,606 12
Lincoln 385 5 390 1
Lyon 2,345 18 2,363 12
Mahnomen 324 1 325 5
Marshall 537 13 550 10
Martin 1,265 8 1,273 22
McLeod 2,387 14 2,401 21
Meeker 1,474 16 1,490 12
Mille Lacs 1,620 40 1,660 34
Morrison 2,452 63 2,515 31
Mower 2,759 32 2,791 23
Murray 619 7 626 5
Nicollet 1,739 10 1,749 26
Nobles 3,153 18 3,171 34
Norman 374 1 375 8
Olmsted 7,221 11 7,232 37
Otter Tail 3,406 58 3,464 26
Pennington 693 40 733 9
Pine 1,427 56 1,483 8
Pipestone 765 12 777 18
Polk 2,615 137 2,752 29
Pope 580 1 581 1
Ramsey 29,142 760 29,902 526
Red Lake 220 16 236 3
Redwood 1,050 16 1,066 20
Renville 943 43 986 30
Rice 4,337 47 4,384 39
Rock 828 19 847 10
Roseau 1,228 107 1,335 7
Scott 8,963 131 9,094 61
Sherburne 5,951 321 6,272 47
Sibley 838 10 848 4
St. Louis 9,510 261 9,771 126
Stearns 14,319 360 14,679 126
Steele 2,141 6 2,147 8
Stevens 540 4 544 4
Swift 644 12 656 10
Todd 1,909 8 1,917 14
Traverse 159 0 159 2
Wabasha 1,139 4 1,143 1
Wadena 857 22 879 7
Waseca 1,450 3 1,453 11
Washington 14,716 378 15,094 125
Watonwan 916 2 918 4
Wilkin 430 2 432 5
Winona 2,986 20 3,006 32
Wright 8,244 398 8,642 48
Yellow Medicine 686 30 716 12
Unknown/missing 404 12 416 0