MDH COVID-19 briefing: Walz, health officials urge Minnesotans to follow guidelines, talk holidays, possible restrictions

Josh Skluzacek
Updated: October 27, 2020 03:51 AM
Created: October 26, 2020 01:53 PM

Monday, Gov. Tim Walz joined Minnesota health officials to provide the latest update on the state's COVID-19 situation.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann echoed Walz's message that Minnesotans need to buckle down and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Malcolm said Monday was the fifth consecutive day Minnesota has reported more than 1,500 new COVID-19 cases, and the 19th consecutive day with more than 1,000 new cases.

According to Malcolm:

  • Minnesota's positivity rate, as of Monday, was 6.5%, up from 5.8% last week.
  • The state has seen a 70% increase in hospitalizations in the past month.
  • Case growth is being led by community transmission, and 77% of cases since Oct. 1 have been linked to community transmission.
  • While younger people were accounting for most new cases just a couple of months ago, older people are again accounting for more of the new COVID-19 cases.
  • Social gatherings, including events like weddings and funerals, continue to lead to a lot of spread. More than 70 wedding-related outbreaks in Minnesota have occurred since June, which led to hundreds of other new cases through community spread.
  • 27% of K-12 schools in the state have had at least one COVID case since school began, and 33 have more than five cases, currently.

KSTP's complete COVID-19 coverage

Malcolm also said the speed of case growth recently is notable. While MDH knows more testing will lead to more confirmed cases, case growth continues to outpace testing growth, showing the virus is spreading in the state. She also noted that MDH has started seeing higher case numbers in areas with higher resistance to following the state's health guidelines.

"We're at a critical point in our COVID-19 fight," Walz said. He noted that Dr. Deborah Birx, who visited Rochester Saturday, said the Midwest is at a critical juncture, and Minnesota still has a chance to stop what's happening in nearby states. He called the next six to 12 weeks "critical," and told Minnesotans this is our "goal-line stand" against COVID.

Walz also urged Minnesotans to follow health guidelines, wear masks, social distance and get tested, and to avoid large gatherings.

"Testing is the key to stopping the chain of virus spread," Walz said, noting that the state is ramping up its testing and urging people to take advantage of it.

Meanwhile, Ehresmann noted it's not just large gatherings that are the problem but also small, private gatherings. She said fewer people gathering means there's less risk for transmission but that doesn't mean there's no risk, just like wearing a mask and social distancing helps reduce risk but doesn't eliminate it. She urged Minnesotans to carefully consider any activity involving close interaction with anyone outside their immediate household.

"No matter who you are — young, old, healthy or underlying conditions — you don't know what your COVID case will be like and you shouldn't be rolling the dice that it'll be mild because too many people are losing that gamble," Ehresmann said. She added that each case spreads to three people, on average.

"If you don't worry for yourself, worry for them," Ehresmann said, talking of those who may get COVID from someone who unknowingly is infectious.

Getting COVID-19 doesn't mean a person will either have no symptoms or will die. Ehresmann pointed out that there are many people who experience illnesses for several months due to complications from COVID-19.

Pence campaigns in Hibbing

With Vice President Mike Pence campaigning in Hibbing Monday afternoon, Walz said his administration and MDH has made it clear to all political parties that they want campaigns to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at all events. Walz said he believes the right to gather and view candidates is an important part of democracy but just wants attendees to social distance and wear masks. Still, he said he regularly sees large events without social distancing and masks, which concerns him.

When told that many attendees of Monday's rally in Hibbing weren't social distancing or wearing masks, Walz called it "disappointing," saying those people may be fine with their risk of getting COVID but their neighbors, security workers and others who will encounter them don't have a say in the matter.

He added that punitive measure won't be taken against Pence's campaign or the leaders in Hibbing but reiterated that attendees not following health guidelines is disappointing.

Vice President Pence attends campaign event in Hibbing

Looking at our future

With many of Minnesota's neighboring states struggling with skyrocketing COVID numbers, Walz pointed to Wisconsin as Minnesota's future if Minnesotans aren't able to curb the spread of the virus. If that's the case, he said things like schools shifting to online-only classes and high school athletics being canceled are likely.

Malcolm noted that the high school events can be problematic for the spread of the virus but it's also the other things associated with those, such as spectators gathering, that can be problematic with the events.

"We're continuing to see evidence of transmission related to sports," Ehresmann said, noting several cases relating to volleyball, dance, hockey and other activities are currently under investigation by MDH in connection to high school and college events in the state.

However, Walz said there's no consideration being given to closing down the state's borders for travel with nearby states due to their struggles with COVID. Walz called the neighboring states "partners" and said they need to work together to curb the spread of the virus.

Minnesota's mask compliance lacking

When asked about possibly dialing back the state's reopening strategy and implementing new restrictions, Walz said they have conversations about that daily but really just need Minnesotans to follow masking and social distancing guidelines. However, if absolutely necessary, they'll implement new restrictions.

Malcolm added some studies indicate Minnesotans' mask compliance is slightly below the national average, which she and Walz called disappointing.

"I am confident that the tools are there," Walz said of stopping COVID spread, adding that they need people to utilize them.

Ehresmann added there are "tools in our toolbox" they haven't yet utilized. She noted that people wearing masks and social distancing are much less painful than what newly implemented restrictions would be.

Guidance as holidays approach

As the holidays approach, which usually means people preparing to gather with friends and loved ones, MDH is urging people to understand that COVID-19 is necessitating some changes to our usual holiday gatherings.

"The sad part of it all is that we're more eager than usual to gather," Malcolm said about holiday gatherings with friends or loved ones.

She and Ehresmann, however, urged Minnesotans to reconsider having gatherings with people from several households and instead limit the number of people at events.

Larger gatherings, especially those without masks and social distancing — most of which are expected to be indoors — only increases the risk for COVID-19 spread.

MDH reports 4 new COVID-19 deaths, 1,578 new cases


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