Minnesota health leaders reported over 900 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began.
Adding to the hearbreak, the first death of a child in the state — a 9-month-old in Clay County, home to Moorhead. The infant is among the youngest deaths in the country from COVID-19 and the first death in Minnesota for anyone under age 20 who tested positive for the virus.
The child did not have an underlying health problem and had not been hospitalized, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters. The infant tested positive for COVID-19 and was identified as having an upper and lower respiratory infection; both were counted as causes of death, she said.
“A death involving such a young person is tragic, and certainly very unusual,” said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, adding that the state has asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate.
Ehresmann said while current knowledge of the coronavirus puts children at lower risk, the possibility of infection is still there and officials are hoping to understand more about how the virus can affect children.
“In general, we have seen fewer cases in kids, we’ve seen fewer cases with hospitalizations and fewer cases with the need for intensive care,” she said, “but what we don’t know — and I think this is true for all ages — we don’t really know the underlying long-term impacts of a COVID infection on an individual.”
Ehresmann added the spread of coronavirus to children is less likely to happen from another child and more likely to come from an adult to children, like in a household setting.
Monday’s grim report continued to reflect what’s been happening for three weeks now — new case counts leaping as deaths and hospitalizations flatten.
Officials, however, have been bracing Minnesotans to expect those numbers to rise as cases continue to jump.
The 922 infections posted Monday were a record for daily confirmed cases, although officials said the high number comes partly from the fact they are transitioning to a new reporting system, which may make the daily numbers choppy over the next few days.
Here are the latest coronavirus statistics:
47,107 cases confirmed (922 new) 867,410 via tests
1,545 deaths (four new)
4,678 cases requiring hospitalization
247 people remain hospitalized; 115 in intensive care
40,742 patients no longer requiring isolation
Cases growing in most age brackets
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 more vulnerable populations.
Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the age group with the most confirmed cases with nearly 11,000. The median age of Minnesotans infected has been trending down in recent weeks and is now 37 years old.
Health investigators, however, are starting to see more cases in many age brackets, including ages 30 through 59, as more people get together for family gatherings and summer fun without social distancing, Ehresmann said.
It’s not like the situation the past few weeks where 20-somethings meeting in bars drove the increases. Now, analysts are seeing an evolution in the “larger, gradual increase in social activities,” she added.
While current hospitalization counts in Minnesota remain relatively low, Ehresmann reiterated that officials expect the numbers to go on the march as the new cases climb.
New cases are also rising in northern Minnesota. Cases in Beltrami County have nearly doubled in the past week, from 53 to 101. Ehresmann on Monday said the case increase is tied to spread from a “number of events” including athletic events.
Not playing ‘gotcha’
The latest counts come as officials try to get their arms around clusters of problems centered around bars and restaurants.
State investigators say they’ve received some 120 complaints recently from concerned residents reporting violations of the current orders around gathering in indoor social spaces, particularly bars and restaurants, Malcolm said Friday.
Complaints include staff not wearing masks, not enough social distancing and too many people at a site.
Because of that, the state is “stepping up enforcement,” Malcolm said, “not to play gotcha with restaurants and bars but because we feel it’s so essential” to protect Minnesotans.
Malcolm said most bar and restaurant owners who’ve been flagged have responded positively. She also noted that establishments that don’t comply are subject to cease-and-desist orders.
Malcolm said health officials continue to hope that bars, restaurants and other indoor social spaces get the message. The state, she said, is working to avoid “wholesale closure” of these places but that the rise in community spread must be checked.
“But in all candor, I don't think anything can be considered completely off the table with what we're seeing around the country and in our own numbers in Minnesota,” she added. “But we clearly would like to explore intermediate measures before that.”
Walz weighing statewide mask order
The state's top public health leaders on Monday reiterated their support for a statewide mask mandate, saying such mandates have proven to help prevent transmission of COVID-19.
Several Minnesota cities already have mask requirements in place. As for a statewide mask mandate, DFL Gov. Tim Walz is weighing the measure, but has yet to enact one — despite pleas from medical groups and the state Health Department.
Walz recently expressed concern that Minnesotans were lagging on their mask-wearing. But Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, have said a statewide mandate would be a mistake.
On Friday morning, Walz told MPR News that he believes a mask mandate is the right thing to do to slow the spread of the coronavirus but that he hasn't yet made a decision on whether to issue a statewide order.
"I'm trying to get them to buy in,” Walz said of Gazelka and others who oppose a statewide mandate. “It's unfortunate that around masks, it became somewhat of a political statement rather than a public health statement.”
More than half of U.S. states now require the use of masks or face coverings in public settings.
Meatpacking hot spots remain
Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.
That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 1,008 confirmed cases as of Monday. Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.
While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.
Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,706 confirmed cases as of Monday, with six deaths. About 1 in 13 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.
Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.
Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus.
There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Monday, confirmed cases were at 2,643 with 19 deaths.
Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus.
As of Monday, the Health Department reported 613 people have now tested positive. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.
Cases have also climbed noticeably in Lyon County (378 cases) around a turkey processor in Marshall.