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Minnesota faces September without ever having tamped down COVID-19 cases

With flu season approaching, state's inability to reverse chronically elevated case numbers signals a failure to follow guidance

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ROCHESTER, Minn. — The state of Minnesota reported another 502 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Another day, another 500-plus Minnesotans battling an illness we've yet to really understand, and a continuation of the new caseload high-water mark in a state that has long thought of itself as a leader in public health.

At 502, the first day of September's new case total is less than half of the one-day record posted on Saturday, Aug. 29, which saw 1,032 new positives.

Yet the uneventful nature of another half-thousand sick people at the lowest point of the week for new cases underscores a late-summer surge that has the mood at the state's regular coronavirus briefings morphing from concern to alarm.

The prevailing narrative in Minnesota to explain the slow, continuous wave of elevated case numbers traces back to the reopening in June of bars and restaurants, albeit under a slate of restrictions.

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That move flooded select bars with younger adults who flaunted the advisories, triggering a slide in the state's average age range of new cases, one shifting steadily downward into the 20s and 30s.

In recent weeks, however, health officials have shifted their concern from urban bars and, to some extent, statewide youth sporting events. They look now to a routine sort of abandonment of health guidance at everyday informal social gatherings, mundane outings such as backyard barbecues, dinner parties, family reunions, funerals and weddings — all increasingly linked to outbreaks.

Federal health officials visiting last weekend expressed their concern about rising cases in the Midwest and Minnesota in particular, and singled out the rural regions of the state for special attention.

A current national database for seven-day test positivity rate , broken down by the county level, bears out this concern.

It shows that the highest outbreaks per capita are not the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul, but rather rural LeSeur County (at greater than 15% case positivity rate), and a swath of suburban and exurban counties north and west of the metro made up of Carver, McLeod, Sibley and Wright counties (all now between a 9-15% test positivity rate).

The metro core of Hennepin and Ramsey counties share the same 5-9% test positivity rate as that found in the heart of low-density outstate Minnesota.

These numbers likely have health officials worried because early weeks of the pandemic featured projections that depicted a late summer drop-off in cases corresponding to warm weather and time outdoors — all prior to a second wave as the state heads indoors to hunker down for fall, football and the flu.

If the state and especially outstate Minnesotans can learn to treat the weekends with the same vigilance it treats a trip to the convenience store, there is still a chance that dip in new cases to below 100 can still be attained, officials believe.

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Health officials reported an additional six deaths on Tuesday, bringing the state's total lives lost to 1,823. One death each was reported in Dakota, Murray, Scott and Stevens counties. Two deaths were reported in Hennepin County.

Countering the notion that COVID-19 does not appreciably shorten lifespans, the deaths in Scott, Stevens and Hennepin county were all persons in their early 60s.

The state reported just 9,158 tests on Tuesday.

There are now 294 people hospitalized with the illness, 136 in the ICU.

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  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
  • COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website .

Paul John Scott is the health reporter for NewsMD and the Rochester Post Bulletin. He is a novelist and was an award-winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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