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Live updates: Walz, first responders urge Minnesotans to follow COVID-19 guidelines

Here are the latest updates on COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Wednesday, Dec. 2

  • MDH reports 77 COVID deaths, second highest in a single day
  • Hospital bed use down across Minnesota
  • Officials say we are at the endgame of the pandemic with upcoming vaccines 
  • Experts concerned about possible surge after Thanksgiving travel, gatherings

2 p.m.

On Wednesday, Governor Tim Walz, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and several first responders spoke to Minnesotans to address the way the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted public safety and emergency response. 

Walz said that he hopes to highlight aspects of everyday life that are impacted by the pandemic that many Minnesotans may not typically  consider. According to Walz, the workforce of firefighters, police officers and paramedics in Minnesota has been affected by COVID-19, which can impact their ability to respond to emergencies. 

Harrington emphasized that this is a statewide issue, and that he is hearing every day from fire departments and police departments that are having staffing issues due to COVID-19.

He added that fire departments have been hit particularly hard.

"Ninety-nine out of the 500 fire departments in the state of Minnesota have had major COVID outbreaks," he said. "That's 20%."

He stressed that the state has worked to rearrange resources and take precautions to keep departments staffed, but it won't take much to take those departments out of service if communities do not wear masks, avoid gatherings and social distance.

Eagan Police Chief Roger New said that his department has followed CDC guidelines since the pandemic began, but he has still seen 20% of his staff take time off due to COVID-19 quarantines at some point since March, including one staff member who was hospitalized and took two months to fully recover.

Jay Wood, a firefighter in Plato, said that the Plato Fire Department has also carefully followed guidelines, but an outbreak that affected over three quarters of the department forced them to take the department out of service for a time. 

"We are not alone as a small department of dealing with the virus and the staffing issues it has presented to us," he said. "Minnesota fire services are always here to help the public, and people always ask how they can help us. The biggest thing you can do is follow the guidelines the governor and the Department of Health have set for us."

Paramedic Ross Chavez echoed this, urging Minnesotans to follow advice from health experts to help keep first responders in the community healthy so they can continue providing fast and effective emergency services.

"Please, help my colleagues and me be there for those who need us, especially this holiday season during these trying times," Chavez said. 

Walz said that for Minnesotans frustrated by other community members not following these guidelines, he does not want to shame anyone, but it is a "moral hazard" to not wear a mask and go to large gatherings.

"We're not going to be able to arrest everybody, that was certainly never our intention," he said. "You don't have to follow these rules because I said so, you don't have to follow them because you don't like government. You should follow them because they're the right thing to do, they protect lives." 

Walz added that by next Tuesday, he hopes he and state health officials will have a clear timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm said she expects the FDA will issue an emergency use authorization on Dec. 11, and that the first wave of vaccinations could begin as soon as a week or so later.

Walz said he understands concerns around safety of the vaccine, but his assessment has been that the federal government has done a "fantastic job" of the vaccine development. 

However, he stressed that though the excitement around the vaccine may indicate that the pandemic is over, we are still "in the teeth of it."

"Let's make sure we get all of our neighbors there, and protect those folks that make a difference," he said.

 

11 a.m.

The resurgence of COVID-19 in Minnesota is proving deadly, as underscored by 77 new fatalities reported by state health officials Wednesday.

Those deaths are the second highest single-day total since the pandemic came to Minnesota, only behind the 101 deaths reported the Friday after Thanksgiving. The total number of lives lost in the state now sits at 3,692.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says 5,192 new coronavirus cases were reported Wednesday, based on results from 42,737 tests (39,912 PCR, 2,825 Antigen) processed in private and state labs. 

A positive PCR test is considered a confirmed case, while a positive Antigen test is considered probable. 

Minnesota now reports 327,477 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. 

In a bit of positive news, hospital bed use is down after a surge in recent days. Coronavirus patients are currently using 1,350 non-ICU beds, down 104 from Tuesday, and 354 ICU beds across the state are being used for COVID patients, down 40 from a day ago. 

The total number of patients hospitalized since COVID hit Minnesota is 17,378, with 3,873 of those requiring treatment in the ICU.

Credit: KARE

Leading causes of exposure for those who have tested positive include community exposure with no known contact (60,808 cases) followed by a known contact (54,554 cases) and exposure through a congregate care setting (25,695 cases).

Young people 20 to 24 make up the largest group of cases by a significant margin with 34,806 and two deaths, followed by those 25 to 29 with 29,876 and four deaths. The greatest number of fatalities involves people 85 to 89 with 691 in 4,156 confirmed cases. 

Hennepin County has the most recorded COVID activity with 68,898 cases and 1,130 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 28,948 cases and 512 deaths, Anoka County with 23,196 cases and 232 fatalities, and Dakota County with 23,102 cases and 194 deaths. 

Cook County in northeastern Minnesota has the least amount of COVID activity with 79 cases and no deaths. 

Tuesday, Dec. 1

2 p.m.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Minnesotans have the ability to lessen the impact of COVID-19 by changing their holiday plans and avoiding gatherings.

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said the endgame of COVID-19 comes down to the vaccine. There are safe and effective upcoming vaccines that may be available much sooner than initially thought, Ehresmann said.

There were no cuts to safety measurements while the process of the creation of the vaccine was accelerated. Manufacturers were able to speed the process due to technology advancements in the last 10 years, and also were able to recruit people for phase three trials earlier while maintaining a safe timeline, Ehresmann said.

Pfizer and Moderna have submitted public data to the FDA that suggests a high level of efficacy of their vaccines at 95%. 

What follows is determining priority groups for deciding who gets vaccinated first,  Ehresmann said. The guidelines for vaccines in Minnesota is expected to be released in the coming weeks, Ehresmann said.

"We've been talking about the light at the end of the tunnel. It's there, and it's getting closer all the time." Ehresmann said. "As we prepare for that exit we need to focus on making sure as few Minnesotans as possible get COVID in the coming weeks. We want everyone to be in full health to celebrate with us."

Ehresmann said vaccines will not be available right away for children due to the fact that they are a special group and more research needs to be done for that age group.

11 a.m.

New cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota took a steep drop Tuesday, but so did the number of tests processed in labs across the state. 

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reports 3,570 additional coronavirus cases in the past day, more than 2,000 fewer than were recorded Monday. But testing volume was significantly down, with 22,757 tests (21,995 PCR, 762 Antigen) completed in private and state labs. A positive PCR test is considered a confirmed COVID-19 case, while a positive Antigen test is considered probable. 

MDH says 22 more Minnesotans died from the virus, bring total fatalities to 3,615 since the pandemic began. Of those deaths 2,430, or 67% of them are linked to long-term care or assisted living settings. State health officials have recently expressed great concern that increased community spread across Minnesota will also increase the number of asymptomatic people bringing the virus into facilities that house especially vulnerable populations. 

MDH says 1,446 general care beds across the state are currently occupied by COVID patients, with just 1.8% of Minnesota's total non-ICU beds available. As of Tuesday coronavirus patients are using 394 ICU beds statewide, a new record, but bed availability is up slightly from Monday. In the Twin Cities metro 29 ICU beds are reported as available, while 68 non-ICU beds are open. 

Hospitalizations due to coronavirus have now reached a total of 17,111, with 3,826 of those patients requiring treatment in the ICU.  

Credit: KARE

State health officials say 279,540 people who at one time tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered to the point they no longer require isolation. 

Young people between ages 20 and 24 continue to account for the largest number of Minnesota's COVID-19 cases, with 34,384 and two deaths, while people between 25 and 29 make up 29,458 cases and four fatalities. Those between 85 and 89 are the largest grouping of the state's coronavirus fatalities, with 671 in just 4,082 diagnosed cases. 

Hennepin County has recorded the most COVID activity in the state with 67,913 cases and 1,121 deaths, followed by Ramsey County 28,517 cases and 507 fatalities. Anoka County reports 22,841 cases and 228 deaths, while Dakota County has 22,657 cases and 192 fatalities. 

Cook County has the least COVID activity with just 78 cases and zero fatalities since the onset of the pandemic.

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what businesses are open as the state slowly lifts restrictions. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.