MDH COVID-19 briefing: Case growth outpacing tests, thoughts on limiting risk during holidays

Monday, Minnesota health officials provided the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that Minnesota is still trending the wrong way recently in many COVID measurements.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann really reiterated the importance of people following health guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota.

While many people are following the guidance, some Minnesotans aren’t, Ehresmann said, and if trends continue downward, dialing back would affect everyone and impact the state’s economy in a way that could be avoided by simply wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding large crowds or gatherings and staying home when feeling sick.

"We all need to take this seriously and it’s not just a matter of restricting certain settings … Individuals make a huge difference with the decisions they make," Malcolm said.

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Malcolm said, nationwide, it’s been an issue getting people to take the same precautions in private settings as they do in public settings. That holds true in Minnesota.

Monday was the 10th consecutive day the state has reported more than 1,000 cases. Malcolm also noted that cases are up 9.6% while testing up 7.8%, so Minnesota is seeing faster growth in cases than in testing. The state’s seven-day average positivity rate is at 5.8%, up from 4.9% last week.

With several COVID measurements for possibly dialing back in a "caution zone" and headed in the wrong direction, Malcolm said the risk measures are important to track together but the context is also important. MDH is still closely monitoring those and urges people to simply follow the guidance to help get those going back in the right direction.

With holidays coming up, Malcolm urged Minnesotans to rethink how they may celebrate holidays. With people gathering, especially during the winter months since most gatherings are indoors, MDH urged people to limit risks to help stop the spread. Some ways to do that include having very small gatherings of less than 10 people, having socially distanced and masked gatherings and limiting contact with people outside your family. Ehresmann noted that there’s still going to be risk but they know some risk will always be involved. They simply urge Minnesotans to take as many steps as possible to limit those risks.

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Some other highlights from Monday’s call are below:

  • This week is Infection Prevention and Control Week. Ehresmann asked people to thank those working to help prevent infections, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ehresmann urged voters to be safe and help reduce the spread of COVID-19. She noted that some very safe options include mail-in ballots or dropping off a ballot at a dropbox. However, voters can also be safe by voting in-person if voting at off-peak times, wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands and using sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when feeling sick.
  • Hospital capacity and ICU occupancy has been more than 90% full throughout October in the metro and above 80% statewide. Malcolm and Ehresmann noted that COVID-19 is a part of those high occupancy rates but most of it is from other illnesses. Ehresmann noted that only 9% of ICU use last month was due to COVID hospitalizations. That is now at 13%.
  • Four COVID outbreaks have been linked to hair salons or barbershops across the state involving both customers and staff.
  • Another new saliva testing site for COVID-19 is set to open in Brooklyn Park, Tuesday.
  • With a capacity limit for bars and restaurants restored in Wisconsin on Monday, Malcolm said she believes Gov. Tim Walz will keep all options open for possibly implementing new COVID restrictions. However, they prefer to keep things open as they are and have people follow health guidance to reduce the virus’ spread. If that doesn’t happen, dialing back is possible.
  • Malcolm said the state ranks 39th for most COVID-19 cases on a per capita basis and is doing well with long-term care facilities, too. However, recent concern has arisen due to cases rising more quickly in Minnesota and outpacing testing growth while nearby states experience outbreaks, too.
  • Ehresmann was also asked about face shields vs. masks for stopping the spread of COVID-19, particularly in restaurant settings, and said masks are preferred because it completely covers both the mouth and nose.

5 new COVID-19 deaths, 1,632 new cases reported by MDH