Twenty more COVID-19 deaths were reported Thursday, continuing an increase in fatalities that began in early October.
Over the past seven days, 102 deaths from the new coronavirus have been reported to the Minnesota Department of Health, the biggest weekly total since early June.
State health officials have said the increasing death numbers are the inevitable result of more people getting infected with the virus.
On Thursday, another 1,574 new infections were added to the state’s growing case count, the result of what health leaders have said were infections transmitted at social gatherings without masks or social distancing.
“COVID fatigue is real here in Minnesota and across the country, and we see it in the outbreak data,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.
Many rural parts of the state are seeing the highest weekly case rate growth, with the latest data showing 16 rural counties with increases to more than 30 new infections for every 10,000 residents.
By comparison, statewide there have been 17 new cases per 10,000, which is up from a rate of seven new cases in mid-September.
“With more of the businesses open … we have seen an increase in people kind of tired of the whole thing and out and about more,” said Debra Jacobs, Wilkin County public health director.
The county was one of 23, along with the Red Lake Nation, in which state officials have chosen to launch a new at-home saliva testing program.
Participants will receive a home test kit and will log into a video visit website where someone will make sure the saliva sample is collected properly. Once that is done, the cap used to seal the collection tube will release a preservative that helps keep the sample from degrading.
Jacobs said the program should help increase access to testing in her county.
“Our clinics are in North Dakota, and our largest clinic does not test if people do not have symptoms,” she said. “It has been difficult for people who are close contacts to get tested.”
But some public health officials are hearing that some people resist testing because it can have consequences.
“There has been pushback from the community as they think more testing will create increased numbers and therefore schools moving to distance learning,” said Carol Biren, public health director for Southwest Health and Human Services, a multicounty agency that includes Rock and Lyon counties, which are both eligible for at-home testing.
“We realize that testing may result in an increase in numbers in the short term but believe it will help reduce the spread in the long run if people who are positive have that knowledge,” she said.
The at-home test program is part of a $24.66 million state contract with New Jersey-based Infinity Biologix and New York-based Vault Health, which recently opened an Oakdale facility to process the saliva tests.
State officials hope to roll out the at-home program to the whole state in November, but it has also set up in-person saliva collection facilities.
As has been the case throughout much of the pandemic, many of the deaths have been residents of long-term care facilities, which account for 13 of the deaths announced Thursday.
New cases in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have been rising for several weeks, particularly among employees who appear to be getting the disease outside facility walls.
“Even a modest rise in long-term care cases does result in additional hospitalizations and deaths,” Malcolm said.
Community spread is increasing faster than in long-term care.
“It has really become more of a statewide phenomenon driven by different sources of transmission,” she said.
Since the pandemic was detected in Minnesota in March, the state has had 2,301 fatalities and 128,152 people have tested positive for the virus.
Nearly 27,000 test results were reported to the Health Department, a one-day increase of 67%.
At least 460 Minnesotans have been admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 complications in the past seven days. Of those, 104 patients were placed in intensive-care units. The number of people admitted to hospitals in the past week is down from the 496 admissions in the previous seven days, although reports of new admissions do tend to lag.
Most people who require hospital-level care have underlying medical conditions that can lead to complications, including pneumonia. Hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, diabetes and obesity are among the diagnoses that have been identified as risk factors.
Most who become infected experience mild or no symptoms and need no medical care.
Since the pandemic began, 113,976 people are considered to be no longer infectious and do not need to isolate.
Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192