Updated: 4:42 p.m.
Minnesota health officials on Monday put out new guidance to ease visiting rules for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the state.
Visitors must now be allowed if the long-term care facility has not had a COVID-19 exposure in the last 14 days. Another requirement for opening nursing homes is if there’s low to medium virus transmission in the county.
There are exceptions if there is a reasonable or clinical safety cause not to open, such as staffing issues.
The new rules go into effect Saturday. They are being introduced to align with new federal recommendations. Visitors still must schedule their time with the facilities, be screened for symptoms and wear masks.
Long-term care settings have long been a deep concern for the state’s public health authorities. Among the 2,144 who’ve died from COVID-19 related complications in Minnesota, about 71 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.
Officials had placed severe visiting restrictions early on in the pandemic, hoping to stem the spread of the disease. They’ve also acknowledged the psychological toll that takes on residents and their families.
Hospitalizations, cases climb
The new guidance Monday came as the latest Health Department report showed nearly 1,200 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, with hospitalizations approaching record levels in the pandemic.
The newest numbers come after a weekend where confirmed COVID-19 case counts rose by nearly 3,000 — the greatest two-day increase of the pandemic to date. That included a record single-day increase of 1,537 cases in Saturday’s report as testing also climbed to record levels.
“Despite what we wish is the case, COVID-19 is still a big and growing problem in Minnesota,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday.
Officials also confirmed more cases of COVID-19 have surfaced tied to President Donald Trump’s recent rallies in Bemidji and Duluth and Vice President Mike Pence’s recent visit to Minnesota.
They include three cases from Duluth and three from the Pence get-together Sept. 24 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The Bemidji rally total is now at 16, including four who were at a counter-protest, said Kris Ehresmann, the states infectious disease director.
She said the state has identified two cases tied to political events for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, one in Duluth and one in Brooklyn Park.
Officials had anticipated seeing a surge in cases expected from Labor Day weekend gatherings, sporting events and college student meetups before the start of fall semester. They also expected the wave would put more people in the hospital. That appears to be happening.
Of the 113,439 cases of the disease confirmed in the pandemic to date, about 89 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
Rise in cases among age 60-plus Minnesotans
New cases are up dramatically over the past month in all age groups 30 and older. But the most recent data show a concerning rise in the number of new cases among Minnesotans ages 60 and older. It’s not clear why.
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — approaching 26,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 15,000 among people ages 20-24.
The numbers help explain why experts remain particularly concerned about young adults as spreaders of the virus.
While 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 and that spread could hamper attempts to reopen campuses completely to in-person teaching.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 10,500 total cases among children ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Cases surging outside the Twin Cities metro area
Regionally, northern, southern and central 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.
Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases. Northern Minnesota, once by far the region least affected by the disease, has seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks relative to its population.
Central Minnesota cases are skyrocketing. It’s not clear why.
Early on, many Minnesotans thought COVID-19 would be only a Twin Cities metro area problem, but now the biggest problems are happening in non-urban parts of the state.
“The hottest of our hot spots are outside the metro area,” Ehresmann said Friday. That includes Martin and Pipestone counties in southern Minnesota, where positive test rates are hitting 10 percent, about twice the statewide average.
On Monday, officials said Martin and Redwood counties are now above a 10 percent positive rate.
She implored Minnesotans again to wear masks in indoor public gathering spaces, socially distance and stay home if they don’t feel well. “People in greater Minnesota,” she added, “they have it within their control to make things better.”
Developments around the state
90 inmates at Stillwater state prison contract COVID
The state prison in Stillwater is on lockdown after 90 inmates tested positive for COVID-19.
Routine mass testing this week found 90 new COVID-19 infections at the prison, bringing its total number of cases to 115, the Department of Corrections says.
The department says the inmates with confirmed cases either have no symptoms or are mildly symptomatic. However, a 70-year-old man is receiving medical attention outside the prison.
The department says in a statement that all but two of the men who tested positive reside in the Cell Hall D and Atlantis living units.
— Matt Sepic | MPR News
Virus cancels Indigenous voter event in Bemidji
In Bemidji, an Indigenous voter registration event scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Paul and Babe statues has been canceled. Organizers of Rock the Vote, Native Style were in contact with a facilities manager whose husband recently tested positive for COVID-19.
The climate justice group MN350, the local organizers for the event, work out of the Rail River Folk School in Bemidji. They had regular contact with the building manager, whose husband has tested positive for COVID-19. The organizers are in quarantine and getting tested.
“There are going to be a lot of Indigenous people gathered in one place,” said statewide event coordinator Nicole Ektnitphong. “We didn’t want to spread this disease to all of them. We’re trying to be responsible, good people here.”
She said the event itself is going forward in a slightly diminished form. There will still be drum circles at the feet of Bemidji’s Paul and Babe statues. There will still be information on Indigenous candidates, but MN350 organizers won’t be there to help people register to vote.
— John Enger | MPR News
More free testing sites open this week
The Minnesota Department of Health and local officials are offering another round of free COVID-19 testing sites around the state this week.
Testing sites will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Aitkin, Alexandria, Anoka, Faribault, Luverne and St. Cloud.
Testing also will be available Thursday and Friday afternoons at New Hope Baptist Church in St. Paul.
For more details on times and testing locations — and to sign up for an appointment — go to the MDH website.
State health officials also announced that they’re opening a second COVID-19 saliva testing site later this week, in Winona.
The state opened its first saliva testing site in Duluth late last month. The second site will open Wednesday at the Winona Mall.
Health Department officials say they are trying to be proactive as COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the state. They say that they’re especially concerned about a growing spread of the coronavirus throughout greater Minnesota.
Saliva testing will be available to anyone who wants it or thinks they need it. So far more than 7,000 people have completed saliva testing at the first site in Duluth. State officials plan to open as many as eight more sites across the state in the coming weeks.
The Winona testing site will be open five days a week, from Wednesday through Sunday. Find more information here.
— MPR News Staff
Lewis remains in self-quarantine but has tested negative
U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis remained in self-quarantine Sunday after being in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, but the Minnesota Republican told reporters on a Zoom call Sunday that he’s feeling fine and planning to get back on the campaign trail as soon as possible.
“I’ve been tested five times in five weeks — all negative. I’ll probably get tested again this week and again, if we get another negative as expected, be back out there. But, feeling good, no issues — you know, just following the protocol,” he said.
Lewis is challenging incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tina Smith
He postponed in-person events starting last Wednesday after learning of the contact. Lewis had also previously self-quarantined after potential exposure to the coronavirus during President Donald Trump’s visit to Minnesota on Sept. 30.
— Myah Christenson | MPR News
Two Minnesota United players test positive for COVID-19: Minnesota United’s scheduled Sunday match at FC Dallas was postponed after two Minnesota players tested positive for COVID-19.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health’s cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
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