Minnesota meeting 4 of 5 goals to dial back COVID-19 restrictions

Contact tracing has reduced the number of COVID-19 cases from unknown sources to the state goal of 30%, according to updated figures published Tuesday on Minnesota’s pandemic response dashboard.

The progress in tracking the origins of COVID-19, which is caused by infection with a novel coronavirus, means that Minnesota health officials have better chances of identifying and containing hot spots of disease transmission.

Cases of community transmission that couldn’t be traced to a source had increased from 10% on April 24 to 34% on June 8, but declined to 30% on June 14. The figures are averages for case determinations made in the seven days before those dates.

The state is now meeting four of its five dashboard goals, which are used to assess whether restrictions on businesses and social mobility can be dialed back amid the pandemic.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday reported 9 deaths and 245 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the totals in the pandemic to 1,393 deaths and 33,469 cases. Six of the newly reported deaths involved residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities, bringing the death toll in that population to 1,101.

The median age of known COVID-19 cases dropped to 40.4 years, state health officials reported on Monday, but more than nine in 10 deaths still involve people who are elderly or have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or diseases of the lungs, heart, kidneys or immune system.

The number of Minnesotans hospitalized due to COVID-19 increased for the second consecutive day. As of Tuesday morning, 339 Minnesotans were hospitalized, including 158 who needed intensive care.

The total is well below the peak of 606 people hospitalized on May 28, but the increase adds to concerns for state health officials of a second wave of COVID-19 cases following the relaxation of restrictions on June 10 and the reopening of social gathering spots such as restaurants, entertainment venues and fitness clubs.

“We are seeing cases in young adults,” said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director, on Monday. “And with reports from our own staff of crowded venues with lots of people not wearing masks — we will likely see more cases.”

Ehresmann said the impact of the latest business reopenings on COVID-19 case numbers wouldn’t be clear for another week or so. She urged people to wear masks and practice social distancing in public, and said that the health department is monitoring for trends in disease transmission in reopened public settings.

Tracking of roughly 6,500 newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases since June 3 found that 503 people who had tested positive had been at restaurants immediately before their infections were diagnosed. The state health data also showed that 56 had been at religious services shortly before their infections and that 141 had been at family gatherings or parties. Another nine reported being at sporting events shortly before their infections were diagnosed.

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has increased in Minnesota in June — with another 7,261 tests being processed Monday, according to the latest health department figures.

Private and public labs in the state were testing as of June 16 at a rate of 143 specimens per 10,000 people — well above the state dashboard goal of 50. The rate of tests identifying positive infections has declined to 3% overall in Minnesota, below the dashboard threshold of 15%

The state recommended testing of anyone involved in protests or riots following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd — even if they didn’t have any symptoms of illness — due to concerns that the virus was spreading at these mass gatherings.

Testing over the past two weeks of people involved in the demonstrations has produced a positivity rate of less than 2%, however, state health officials reported on Monday.

Ehresmann said it is “very encouraging” that testing in this population hasn’t yet identified any surge of cases in the month after Floyd’s death.

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