Editor’s note: The following story has information from The Stevens County Times and Minnesota Public Radio.
Stevens County saw its largest single day increase in positive COVID-19 cases Sunday when it added 23. The sudden jump brings the county’s total COVID-19 cases to 254, an increase of 49 since Nov. 1.
Stevens County has seen one death so far from COVID-19. In Horizon Public Health’s five counties there have been 15 deaths attributed to the virus. Horizon covers Stevens, Pope, Douglas, Grant and Traverse counties.
Currently, Horizon’s dashboard shows that 69 people have been hospitalized with the potentially deadly virus while 18 have been admitted to an intensive care unit. The average age of those infected is 43.
Of the 1,676 COVID-19 cases in the five counties, 1,262 of those infected are now off isolation.
Pope County saw its first death from COVID-19 this weekend while neighboring Swift County saw its third. Grant County has seen five COVID-19 deaths.
Minnesota capped off a week of sobering COVID-19 records Sunday by hitting another one: State health officials reported nearly 6,000 new cases of the disease, a new daily high.
It’s the fifth time in the past week that the state has hit a record number of new cases, and it’s more than double the number of new cases reported exactly a week ago.
Also on Sunday, state officials reported that an additional 31 Minnesotans have died from the disease, marking the first time the state’s death counts have been consistently above 30 for three days in a row. Since Nov. 1, the state has reported 199 deaths from COVID-19.
The seven-day rolling average for deaths, one measure that health officials use to track the severity of the disease’s spread, has surpassed Minnesota’s peak in May, making this the deadliest stretch of the pandemic so far.
Sunday’s numbers underscore the concerns officials aired last week about rampant and unchecked community spread in Minnesota: The number of people in the state who currently have active, confirmed cases of COVID-19 has surpassed 30,000 for the first time.
And for the sixth straight day, the state’s positivity rate – the proportion of positive cases as compared to tests administered – is in the double digits. State health officials have said from the start that any positivity rate over 5 percent is reason for concern.
As Minnesota heads into another week, health officials expect confirmed cases to regularly exceed 4,000 per day. That record pace also means more people hospitalized and more deaths.
The steady pace of growth this fall has been significant: Minnesota built its first 180,000 confirmed cases over the course of the first 8 months of the pandemic here. But if the current pace continues, the state could now be on track to reach its second 180,000 cases in a month.
The uncontrolled spread is being driven now by Minnesotans’ informal gatherings and get-togethers with family and friends where it’s spread unknowingly by people who have the virus but do not have symptoms, officials say.
“Our behavior is driving this … literally thousands and thousands of small decisions happening around Minnesota that are the issue here,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Friday.
Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, implored Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if you don’t feel well and take other measures to stop the spread.
“You have got to make changes,” said a clearly frustrated Ehresmann. “We really need people to take this seriously and make some changes.”
Gatherings ‘risky right now’
Friday’s reported record caseload surfaced with record testing. Still, the numbers offered a startling confirmation of the repeated warnings from public health authorities over the past month that the disease was spreading uncontrolled throughout the state.
About 1,000 people are in Minnesota hospital beds now from COVID-19, including more than 200 needing intensive care.
There’s increasing concern about the ability of hospitals to handle more. They were already full in the summer and fall from normal use, and the surge in COVID-19 patients is putting hospitals in the Twin Cities “near the top of their capacity,” Malcolm said. Staffing is becoming a challenge as more health care workers get sick, she added.
Minnesota’s confirmed some 25,000 new cases since last Friday.
“The level of virus circulating in our communities is at an all-time high,” Malcolm said Wednesday. “This increases the chance that you’ll be exposed, even if the people you’re with have no symptoms.”
The health commissioner urged people to limit contact with anyone outside their immediate households. “The fact is gathering in a group of people is risky right now.”