MDH COVID-19 briefing: Christmas family gatherings likely to face restrictions

In addition to the record one-day death total last week, daily deaths averaged 49 per day over the past two weeks, and deaths typically lag three to four weeks from a confirmed case. With some more recent high case totals, death and hospitalization numbers are expected to be even worse in the coming weeks.

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Malcolm urged Minnesotans to work hard to combat spread by following health guidelines, and added that’s important for rural Minnesotans too, not just those in the Twin Cities.

More than one-third of counties have now had rates of more than 100 weekly cases per 10,000 people, she said. For context, MDH considers anything above 10 cases per 10,000 people to be a high growth rate. Malcolm added that community spread in most counties is 10 times higher than it should be.

“This virus is in every single county, in every corner of our state,” Malcolm said, noting that case growth rates are actually higher in Greater Minnesota than in the Twin Cities.

Referencing several charts from MDH, Malcolm also noted:

  • The weekly seven-day rolling average positivity rate has tripled since the middle of last month.
  • At the start of Nov., COVID-19 patients accounted for 18% of ICU beds and 9% of non-ICU beds in hospitals. As of Monday, they accounted for 35% of ICU beds and 25% of non-ICU beds.
  • As of Monday, 1,840 patients are in Minnesota hospitals with COVID-19, and 392 of those in intensive care units.
  • Minnesota now has more cases per population than New York, Texas, Florida and many other states that were previously hotspots.

“This is the worst spot we’ve been in since March; that’s what the data tells us,” Malcolm said.

Walz said it was important to highlight the recent data and added, “data doesn’t give you answers, it gives you information to ask questions.” Malcolm also said it was important that everything is put into context of the longer-term trends, adding that the virus is still very new at just 9 months old in Minnesota.

She noted that MDH tries to provide as much data as possible but it takes a few weeks to get the full picture of what’s happening at a point in time. With that in mind, the data still suggests the state is on a dangerous path.

Malcolm also said the virus seems to have a bit of a wave pattern where declines and short periods of good numbers are followed by inclines and spiking numbers. That is likely to continue moving forward.

The biggest thing that can be lost in the data sometimes is its impact. The rising number of hospitalizations continues to put hospitals and health care workers in a tough spot. Malcolm said many are running close to capacity and both hospitals and long-term care facilities are struggling to keep up with staffing because many employees are becoming infected, not from patients or residents but from community spread.

Specifically talking about long-term care facilities, Malcolm showed a chart comparing new COVID-19 cases in Minnesota with new cases at long-term care facilities. While the state’s cases spiked, long-term care facilities’ cases remained steady until recent weeks, when it began to inch upward. Malcolm noted that those cases are particularly concerning due to the vulnerable population in long-term care facilities.

While the data suggests the state is in a gloomy situation, Malcolm noted there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we do have a vaccine to look forward to next year. However, she said it’s important to double down on our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 to ensure that as many people as possible can make it to that time when a vaccine is finally available.

Moving forward

Walz said he expects to have a briefing with federal officials about vaccine distribution in the next week.

He applauded the federal effort on vaccine distribution and said he believes it will lead to good results when a vaccine is finally rolled out.

On that note, Walz said he’s heard the first distribution of Pfizer’s vaccine could come in the second week of December. However, he said Minnesotans should recognize that March and April remain the expectation for a larger scale vaccine rollout.

As for who will receive the first doses of the vaccine, which are expected to be in short supply initially, Walz said there’s still debate among federal health officials about that. 

He said some officials believe health care workers should get the first doses while some believe people 65 years of age and older should. Malcolm said there will likely be a combination and customization of the plan in Minnesota.

Relief for Minnesota

Last week, Walz talked about getting economic relief for Minnesotans and unveiled his proposal for how to do that.

Monday, Walz said lawmakers had substantive talks over the weekend and are starting to make some progress on an economic relief package but no deal has been reached yet. Walz previously said he’d call a special session to pass that relief package as soon as an agreement was reached.

He noted that new budget forecast numbers are set to be released Tuesday and will likely help lawmakers finalize some decisions for the relief package.

Malcolm and Walz thanked Minnesotans who followed the guidance over Thanksgiving weekend and avoided large gatherings like normal. For those who did have gatherings, Malcolm urged those people to get tested five to seven days after the gathering took place and self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

As for Christmas, Walz said he has a hard time believing things will change enough over the next four weeks for Minnesotans to be able to safely gather but he says MDH will continue to reassess and follow the data.

15 new COVID-19 deaths, 5,801 new cases reported by MDH

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