ST. PAUL — State officials are urging Minnesotans to stay "vigilant" with coronavirus measures like social distancing and masking as they head into a holiday weekend and worries rise about an overall spike in the Midwest.
At a Thursday, Sept. 3, news conference, Gov. Tim Walz warned that Minnesota could be at a "tipping point" with coronavirus infections, with positive cases steadily rising in the state since May. Minnesota hasn't seen a sharp, sudden rise like some other states have, but Walz and public health officials have cautioned that residents' diligence to social distancing, hand-washing and masking — or lack thereof — on Labor Day weekend could be a pivotal moment.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm at Thursday's press conference said the state has confirmed 1,047 more cases than the day prior, though 264 of those positive cases were due to a backlog of tests. In total, since March, 78,123 Minnesotans have tested positive for the virus. An additional seven deaths due to COVID-19 were reported Thursday, making the state's total death count 1,837.
What Malcolm appeared most concerned about was the state's current test positivity rate: 5.5%, compared to 4.3% headed into the July 4 weekend, putting the state in a more volatile position heading into a long weekend typically full of gatherings and late-summer fun.
Walz on Thursday said he was trying to make a final "appeal" to residents to follow coronavirus guidelines, in hopes of avoiding widespread shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders like the state saw in March and April. Social distancing, masking and sanitation practices are more sustainable than total shutdowns, he said, and better for quality of life and the health of the economy.
"My goal is to keep as much open as we have right now and not have to turn the dial backwards," Walz said.
But mastering the timing of when to shut operations down if needed, he said, "is a tricky one" because, "If you wait until you fall off the cliff, it's too late. And if you pull it too soon, you put people out of work."
Walz and public health officials on Thursday said that some of the positive cases they are seeing are due to personal gatherings, such as weddings, funerals or even backyard get-togethers. One southwestern Minnesota wedding with 275 guests resulted in 56 confirmed coronavirus cases spread across nine counties, and that does not include secondary cases.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Thursday said that "it is incredibly difficult to not hug your grandparents" and "it can be awkward to ask your friends to wear a mask," but "just because you’re over the pandemic, doesn’t mean it’s over you."
Kris Ehresmann, director of MDOH's Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division, said Thursday that at one guest at a Minnesota wedding had attended the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota's Black Hills before the ceremony and did not self-quarantine in between. She said there are now a "cluster" of cases associated with that wedding. In total, there are 50 confirmed coronavirus cases in Minnesota directly linked to the Sturgis rally, and one patient has died.
"The common thread running through these examples is that during a pandemic, one person’s actions and decisions don't just effect themselves," Ehresmann said. "(One person's) risk tolerance and confidence in their own ability to shrug off COVID doesn't mean they can't pass it off to others. (...) The bottom line is, none of us are on an island."
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