A bad week in Minnesota’s COVID-19 pandemic is closing out in an awful way.
The Health Department on Friday reported 5,454 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease — a new one-day high and the first time that daily count has crossed 5,000. It was the fourth consecutive day of record new cases; 36 more people died, another grim daily record.
The uncontrolled spread is being driven now by Minnesotans’ informal gatherings and get-togethers with family and friends where it’s spread unknowingly by people who have the virus but do not have symptoms, officials say.
“Our behavior is driving this … literally thousands and thousands of small decisions happening around Minnesota that are the issue here,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Friday.
Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, implored Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if you don’t feel well and take other measures to stop the spread.
“You have got to make changes,” said a clearly frustrated Ehresmann. “We really need people to take this seriously and make some changes.”
Gatherings ‘risky right now’
Friday’s reported record caseload surfaced with record testing. Still, the numbers offered a startling confirmation of the repeated warnings from public health authorities over the past month that the disease was spreading uncontrolled throughout the state.
About 1,000 people are in Minnesota hospital beds now from COVID-19, including more than 200 needing intensive care.
There’s increasing concern about the ability of hospitals to handle more. They were already full in the summer and fall from normal use, and the surge in COVID-19 patients is putting hospitals in the Twin Cities “near the top of their capacity,” Malcolm said. Staffing is becoming an challenge as more health care workers get sick, she added.
Minnesota’s confirmed some 25,000 new cases since last Friday.
“The level of virus circulating in our communities is at an all-time high,” Malcolm said Wednesday. “This increases the chance that you'll be exposed, even if the people you’re with have no symptoms.”
She urged people to limit contact with anyone outside their immediate households. “The fact is gathering in a group of people is risky right now.”
Of the 170,307 confirmed or probable cases identified in the pandemic to date, about 82 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The deaths reported Friday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,591. Among those who’ve died, about 69 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.