COVID-19 Briefing: Virus surge among young Minnesotans, discussion as new school year approaches

Wednesday, Minnesota health leaders addressed the state’s average testing positivity rate, the impact of COVID-19 on the upcoming school year, and the topic of a statewide mask mandate.

Here’s what was discussed:

Situation in Minnesota

Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported there are 463 new cases that tested positive for COVID-19 as well as eight additional deaths.

MDH reports 463 new COVID-19 cases, 8 additional deaths

Wednesday’s update pushes the state’s total number of positive cases to 39,589. Of the state’s 1,485 total deaths, 1,161 have occurred in long-term care or assisted living facilities

Meanwhile, MDH stated that 34,902 patients no longer need to be isolated.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remains “fairly stable.”

Additionally, Malcolm said there has been a 12.5 percent increase in total testing week over week, and a 7.9 percent increase in new cases in that same timeframe.

The average testing positivity rate is now 4.4 percent, Malcolm said, which is up from the 3.6 percent rate a week prior. Malcolm said health officials use a seven-day rolling average to calculate the positivity rate and it does have a five-day lag factor to allow for "the complete capture of the cases."

"It’s a notable change in a fairly short period of time," Malcolm said. "It’s not altogether surprising given what we’re seeing in other states and given the continued increase in social interactions that we’re observing."

MDH Infectious Diseases Director Kris Ehresmann added, "I don’t want to suggest that increased positivity is good because it’s clearly a metric that we’re looking at … we want to make sure that we’re not seeing a huge increase in new disease in Minnesota, but one thing to consider is when we see a small increase in our positivity rate, it may be that we are doing a better job of targeting."

For example, Ehresmann pointed to recent community testing being done in regions throughout the state in which health officials thought there may be transmission. In those cases, Ehresmann said health officials would expect to see a slightly higher positivity rate because they were reaching people who needed to be tested.

Meanwhile, in terms of the speed at which individuals are receiving their test results, Ehresmann said national labs are reporting it is taking about four to six days to get test results out. She added that it could take up to eight days to get results returned.

Virus spread among young Minnesotans

State health officials are reporting seeing a continued increase in virus spread among Minnesotans in their teens and twenties. Ehresmann said contact tracing is reportedly revealing bonfires, cabin trips, gatherings related to sports and parties have been part of the spread.

Earlier this week, Edina Mayor Jim Hovland asked parents to talk to their kids about following COVID-19 safety guidelines as the majority of new cases in the suburb have been those under the age of 25.

Edina mayor sounds alarm amid spike in COVID-19 cases among youths

While Ehresmann said the mayor was correct in assessing that there has been a surge in youth cases in Edina, she stated virus spread among young people is not specific to the suburb, saying young people from across the state have accounted for the bulk of positive cases in the past two weeks.

Malcolm and Ehresmann reminded young Minnesotans that not only is there a risk of developing serious health issues as a result of COVID-19 but that there is also the risk of spreading it to family members who might have trouble fighting the virus.

COVID-19 and the upcoming school year

Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he would withhold federal money if schools don’t reopen in the fall, and he said via social media that federal health officials have developed school reopening guidelines that he says are impractical and expensive.

Shortly after the president’s comments, Vice President Mike Pence spoke said it is “absolutely essential” for students to return to the classroom for in-person learning, adding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be issuing new guidance.

When asked about those developments, particularly in terms of guidelines in Minnesota, Malcolm said MDH has been working closely with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to make sure school officials have the latest evidence on COVID-19 and how it may affect students, teachers and staff.

Malcolm said there is agreement on the importance of getting kids back into the school environment for their learning and that state officials are working on the safest ways of doing so, down the road. Ehresmann said that as staff is providing guidance, MDH is looking at how it can best monitor activity in schools to ensure they present safe learning environments.

Although Gov. Tim Walz has said state leaders hope to have an update on the upcoming school year by mid-July, Malcolm said there is interest in pushing that timeframe up.

The topic of a statewide mask requirement

As governors in several states that are seeing rising numbers have mandated mask use, medical experts in Minnesota have come forward backing a statewide mandate.

Minnesota health officials back statewide mask mandate

Wednesday, Malcolm said state health leaders have been appreciative of the way city governments in Minnesota have taken action on implementing mask requirement ordinances.

Malcolm said a lot of research has been conducted on this topic and she said state health officials are looking at giving out data as to whether the addition of a mask mandate drives usage rates in different directions.

KSTP’s complete COVID-19 coverage

Listen to the full news conference via the video player below: