MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A WCCO Investigation found the Twin Cities neighborhoods at high risk for COVID-19. We teamed up with Wilder Research to pinpoint the places Minnesotans could suffer the most serious consequences.

At Wilder Research, Allison Liuzzi tracks trends in issues that affect our quality of life and never before have we seen that threatened quite like the way COVID-19 has.

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“Knowing where there are potential higher risk communities means we can go in and create targeted strategies,” Liuzzi said.

The Wilder team came up with this map to answer that where. Neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul at high risk for the virus. Seven different risk factors landed different parts of the cities in red. They are risks the CDC says will make COVID-19 more severe: Asthma, COPD, heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and kidney disease.

A population over 60 and poverty status also play a role in the date.

“More than 66,000 people in Minneapolis live in these high risk or highly concentrated areas for risk factors and about 88,000 in St. Paul,” Liuzzi said.

That’s 16% of Minneapolis residents and 27% of St. Paul’s population. The tan color of the map represents one or two risk factors; the red three to seven. Like the Near North neighborhood in Minneapolis and its Cedar Riverside, Camden and Phillips communities.

All have a higher number of risk factors for COVID-19 on their streets. In St. Paul, the neighborhoods at greatest risk are more widespread: Payne-Phalen, Frogtown, Thomas Dale and downtown are just some that Wilder identified at highest risk.

“What we’re finding is that Minnesota was kind of on shaky ground coming into this pandemic already,” Liuzzi said.

Liuzzi points to stagnant levels of poverty, income, and health insurance coverage as past problems that play a role now.

Pat McKone is the Senior Director for Health Promotion and Advocacy at the American Lung Association.

“Really, I hope we’re learning the lesson that health is not equal for all,” McKone said.

She says poorer neighborhoods are often more exposed to air pollution from industrial plants. McKone also points to research that shows African Americans suffer far more lung diseases like COPD and Asthma.

“One of our mottos is when you can’t breathe nothing else matters and I think that so applies in the situation that we’re in today,” McKone said.

Kris Ehresmann is the Minnesota Department of Health’s Director of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology.

“When we look at the data now we do see some disparities,” Ehresmann said.

In incident rates, the Minnesota Department of Health reports 24 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 thousand whites in the state. But, 42 cases per 100,000 blacks.

Perhaps the most telling numbers in this pandemic are how risk factors turn into underlying health conditions.

“The role of underlying health conditions is an important one. When we look at overall cases 58% have an underlying health condition, if we look at hospitalized cases that number grows to 80%. For those in intensive care it’s 83% and then with our deaths it’s 98% of our deaths have an underlying health condition,” Ehresmann said.

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It’s why protecting those at high-risk is considered priority number one. The state knows targeted testing and surveillance will help in that fight.

“What they’ve done is a wonderful bit of information,” Ehresmann said.

Believing Wilder’s research will help. Where more information can only help us all move forward.

“The more we know the better our efforts can be to prevent, to try to identify who has this disease and to try to treat people effectively,” Liuzzi said.

You can find more research Wilder just released on COVID-19 by clicking here.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, Ramsey and Hennepin counties have all provided us a look at how they’re protecting vulnerable populations, Including working through language and technology barriers and reaching out through social media, community radio and television. Here are their plans:


  • Create, translate, and distribute printed communications materials to community-based organizations (including our 11 EP MOU partners which are all serving priority cultural communities).
    • Examples: Somali physical distancing materials for Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Council; flyers for Division of Indian Works to distribute to Native American food shelf clients; tailored messaging and signage for corner store owners/shoppers/essential workers in north Minneapolis.
  • Conduct community canvassing to provide targeted education, printed materials, assess needs, and connect people to resources. Emphasis on north Minneapolis and lower-income pockets of south Minneapolis (Powderhorn, Phillips, Central, Cedar Riverside):
    • Small businesses and community spaces
    • Churches and mosques
    • Metro Transit bus stops/shelters(primarily along the commercial corridors in north Minneapolis and along Chicago/Bloomington Aves in south Minneapolis)
    • Parks and outdoor spaces
  • Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) outreach and communications
    • Developing printed materials in multiple languages to post in high rises
    • Weekly phone calls with MPHA leaders to identify needs and connect them to resources (e.g. gave them ideas for volunteers and groups that could help do social isolation phone calls to seniors, connected them with the Fire Department to see how they could help with food/supplies distribution at high rises, etc)
  • Share weekly email updates with 220+ community-based organizations and neighborhood organizations re: funding opportunities, community resources, links to communications materials
  • The structure of our CE Section, especially our Activation Branch utilizes NCR, Promise Zone, and ReCAST liaisons serving as connectors to specific communities (see PowerPoint)
  • Participated in 6 COVID-19 Cultural Community Briefings to share information and discuss areas of concern with the community
  • Developed a Shared Power Advisory Committee on COVID-19 to inform the Health Department’s response. Members are representative of communities suffering the most from the effects of COVID-19. The group consists of 21 members.
  • Matching community donations with community needs.
  • Coordinating needs for PPE and cloth face masks with available resources to provide these items to community members
  • Connect with the City’s cultural radio shows. The City has weekly programs on KMOJ 89.9 FM (English); La Raza 95.7 FM (Spanish); KALY 101.7 FM (Somali); and WIXK AM 1590 (Hmong.)  These are expanded, paid contracts.
  • The City has also done earned media reaching out to additional radio programs on KFAI.
  • Created web pages and social media posts in-language. (See minnneapolismn.gov/coronavirus)
  • Partnership with Minnesota Department of Health, Hennepin County, Ramsey and others to amplify and share content including translated materials, social content and videos. We meet with these organizations weekly to share resources, identify gap areas, and discuss solutions.
  • Neighborhood and Community Relations has been doing engagement via their work/connects and relationships they have year round as well as the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.


Click here to see St. Paul’s plan.


While COVID-19 prompts a public health response, it also requires a comprehensive engagement approach. An engagement perspective emphasizes relationships, trust, and partnerships as core competencies for community preparedness, response, and recovery. Being inclusive, building trust in partnerships with key community providers, community leaders, employees and stakeholders is critical during this pandemic because it impacts every area of life and disproportionately affects communities facing existing disparities.

Our engagement process follows a “listen and respond” approach to working with the community. The pandemic has created a time of fear and confusion in our communities. We want to hear about what communities are struggling with right now to cope with the situation. We can help our communities in Hennepin County have access to accurate and timely information and resources.

Our COVID-19 engagement work is led by Kelsey Dawson Walton. Kelsey is the County’s community engagement manager. She is leading a team of 25 people, with various skills and backgrounds, from around the county. Additionally, we are working closely with neighboring jurisdictions including Minneapolis, Ramsey County and the Minnesota Department of Health, to ensure coordination and consistency to the communities we all serve.

Engagement Tactics

Our engagement work happens in many ways, depending on community needs, preferences and issues. Here are four, selected, examples of our work so far:

  • Translations/Interpretation: We have compiled a list of translated materials and videos for different cultural communities on topics related to COVID-19 that are in direct response to community needs. We have also produced some of our own – both print and video. (see below)
  • Coordinated, county-wide approach: Community Engagement Needs Assessment to get insight and feedback from county employees who have engagement roles at Hennepin County to identify needs to inform response.
  • County services helpline: Using a long-standing county helpline (612-348-300), we established an integrated approach with census, elections and human services navigators to respond to calls from residents including pertinent information about COVID-19 and expanded the hours to evening and weekends. [Since April 1st there have been more than 400 evening and weekend calls.]
  • Supply distribution: A top concern we are hearing in community is for PPE, like cloth face masks, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves. While these supplies remain difficult to obtain, we’ll begin delivering gloves and dust masks this week for single use and continue working with our partners to address additional needs as they arise.


Ramsey County is working in multiple ways to protect and prevent the spread of COVID-19 among its vulnerable populations and to address needs in different communities. This work covers a wide range of actions taken by the county and work going on by staff across departments to provide new or redesigned services and supports, to engage individuals from different communities to answer questions and concerns they have, share information about county and partner resources, and provide basic health education about COVID-19.

Our focus on vulnerable populations includes:

  • People in congregate living settings, and people at high-risk due to age and underlying health conditions;
  • Individuals from all communities of color who consistently experience racial and health disparities;
  • Hmong, Somali, Oromo, Karen, Hispanic/Latino community members with language and technology barriers to receiving information and accessing services;
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness;
  • People in poverty and experiencing economic hardship.
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As we work to serve these populations, we are using the following strategies:

  • Conducting outreach through a racial equity lens by being mindful that our most vulnerable communities have language and technology barriers and providing culturally- and linguistically-relevant information they need to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.
  • Engage and leveraging trusted community leaders (faith-based organizations, nonprofits and community partners) to help us effectively spread accurate information broadly.
  • Developing and using diverse media sources and multiple channels (community radio, videos, social media, venues where people continue to congregate like ethnic markets) to inform and educate underserved communities.
  • Using a variety of person-to-person methods (teleconferencing, email, phone) to connect and engage community partners about any questions or concerns, misinformation about COVID-that may exist among diverse community groups.

Liz Collin