COVID-19 cases rose in Minnesota and across the nation Thursday, as residents continued to stock up on fireworks and make plans to have company over during for the Independence Day holiday weekend.
The average number of newly confirmed cases of the viral respiratory infection in Minnesota has grown almost every day since June 19, according to a seven-day average of cases. Minnesota added 500 cases, giving it 37,210 total.
Nationally, the number of confirmed cases reached an all-time high, with more than 50,000 new lab-confirmed cases reported in a single day and infection curves rising in 40 of 50 states.
While some of that increase is likely because of increased testing, the Associated Press reported that 36 states are seeing an increase in the percentage of positive tests. An increasing share of positive tests is seen as a sign that overall transmissions are increasing, even if more tests are being conducted.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said this week that 3.7% of the diagnostic COVID-19 tests in the state came back positive, compared with 3.3% the week before.
Arizona, a national hot spot for COVID-19 cases, has the highest test-positivity rate in the nation, with 24% of all tests coming back positive, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Arizona is providing about 2 tests per 1,000 residents, compared with 2.2 per 1,000 in Minnesota.
Although public health officials are closely monitoring any increase in the case-positivity rate, Malcolm said Wednesday that Minnesota’s latest figure was “still very good” and speaks to how the state has managed the epidemic with testing.
Minnesota’s testing has ramped up to about 12,000 per day.
Malcolm urged Minnesotans to celebrate the holiday primarily with the people in their own households and to consider virtual visits with larger groups. But the state has not canceled the holiday.
“If you do gather together, keep group sizes limited,” Malcolm said. “And gathering outdoors is a wonderful option. Outdoors is such a better environment in terms of protection from the spread of COVID-19. But even outdoors it’s important to still practice social distancing and to wear masks when you are in close proximity, and absolutely indoors.”
For many Minnesotans, giving up summer retreats and family gatherings during the July 4th weekend is a tough sell.
That means some will celebrate as they always have despite the looming threat of COVID-19, while others like Patty Zeidler of Farmington and her husband will keep to themselves, camping and kayaking in Cable, Wis.
Others plan to adjust their annual gatherings, keeping them smaller and incorporating social distancing whether they’re at a park, poolside or Up North at the cabin.
“We don’t want to take the risk,” said Jim Thompson, 65, who walked into Lakeville Liquors wearing a mask. His usual large-group barbecue will be replaced by a social-distance gathering at the community pool.
When night falls, he’ll try to catch whatever local fireworks he might be able to see from the solitude of his deck.
“That will be good enough,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to reduce the spread.”
Nancy Lindstrom left a Cub store in Apple Valley with groceries for a much smaller cabin getaway than the usual gathering of two dozen family members, including nieces and nephews. Instead, she’ll gather with those she has already spent time with the past few months — her daughter, son-in-law and his parents.
“I feel we have to be smart,” she said. “If you look at the numbers around the country, you have to be concerned. Now is not the time to be in a big crowd. I don’t think it’s safe.”
Others remain skeptical.
“I don’t buy into the whole thing. I’m not saying [COVID-19] doesn’t exist. I don’t think the data is accurate,” said Chandra Arthur of Apple Valley.
She’ll head to Prescott, Wis., this weekend for a party with about 50 friends to celebrate one of the first big gatherings they’ve had since the pandemic shut down normal life.
“Everyone is missing everyone else,” she said, noting that only a few friends will opt out this year.
Arthur feels safe gathering with the group. She has met friends for small patio or driveway happy hours and doesn’t feel the need to wear a mask unless it’s required.
“I’m not afraid of getting sick,” she said, pointing to the low infection numbers among protesters who took to the streets after George Floyd’s May 25 killing.
Her 70-year-old father was hospitalized for 10 days in May with COVID-19 and recovered.
“I don’t feel invincible,” said the 43-year-old, “but the odds are that I’ll recover if I get it.”
In Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis, DeAnn Hoff, 52, said she’s scaling back her traditional gathering for the holiday, inviting over only one other family this year. Although the holiday is supposed to be about celebrating America, she said it’s hard to be upbeat and hopeful this year, given all the social unrest and how fast COVID-19 is spreading here compared with other countries.
Her friend Priscilla Elwell, 74, sitting 6 feet away, agreed: “I hope that next Fourth of July, that we can be hopeful.”