MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Gov. Tim Walz and the state’s top health officials addressed Minnesota’s COVID-19 situation on Thursday afternoon, urging residents to not be anything other than vigilant as the state’s virus statistics are creeping up again.
“We are not out of the woods,” Walz said.
Minnesota’s rate of community transmission is at a high and sustained level of over 30%. That’s one of the benchmarks by which Walz and his team are using to determine whether restrictions in the state need to be altered.
Health officials said that a large portion of these cases have been linked up with social gatherings such as backyard BBQs, weddings and funerals.
One example is a recent wedding in southwestern Minnesota.
“With 275 guests in attendance and guests did not wear masks, we not have 56 cases associated with this wedding and there are nine counties involved”, Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said.
Walz said that these statistics might have Minnesotans feeling a sense of deja vu, that we’re back to April numbers again, and added “We are.” He noted that in his daily briefings with state commissioners, the discussion is raised about the possibility of once again ramping up certain restrictions.
The announcement comes ahead of the Labor Day weekend. Many health officials have already stressed the importance of remaining socially distant and wearing masks during the holiday weekend that traditionally closes off the summer season for many.
“As we head into the fall and the long winter ahead, we must double down in our fight to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Walz said. “We must all do our part to slow the spread, protect our communities, and keep our businesses open. I know it is hard, but Minnesotans are resilient people. We must dig deep, stay strong, and hold the virus at bay.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, who last weekend visited Minnesota, says people need to make sure they don’t let the holiday weekend lead to a surge in new cases.
“We are seeing that crowded backyard events including crowded barbecues are currently one of the primary spreaders of virus,” she said.
According to the state’s Dial Back Dashboard, the state’s positivity rate is at about 5% as of Aug. 5, accounting for the delay in data. If the rate were to soar to 15% or climb 5% over 14 days, health officials would consider tightening COVID-19 restrictions.
Also according to the Dial Back Dashboard, the new positive cases that are attributable to community spread remains above 30% (currently at 35%), and the number of new cases per 100,000 Minnesota residents is above 5 (it’s currently at 12). Both of those are also indicators for whether to tighten or scale back restrictions in the state.
Minnesota is currently in the third phase of reopening, and has been since the beginning of June.
Walz’s warning also comes as many school districts have either started or are about to start the new school year, with some districts opting for distance learning, some sticking with in-person class, and others some combination of both.
Public health departments, which have struggled for months to test and trace everyone exposed to the novel coronavirus, are now being told to prepare to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as early as Nov. 1. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling health departments across the country to draft vaccination plans by Oct. 1 “to coincide with the earliest possible release of COVID-19 vaccine.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)