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9 COVID cases linked to Trump's Bemidji rally; 2 hospitalized, 1 in ICU, state says

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President Donald Trump points into the crowd at Bemidji Aviation Services on Friday, Sept. 18, during a stop on his “Great American Comeback” tour. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s current COVID-19 surge shows no signs of slowing. The Health Department on Friday, Oct. 9, reported another 1,401 newly confirmed cases and 14 more deaths. Hospitalization rates continue to trend upward.

They follow a stretch of more than a week when average new daily case counts topped 1,000. The trend line of active COVID-19 cases in Minnesota remains at a record high in the pandemic.

The outbreak now includes nine cases associated President Donald Trump’s Sept. 18 rally in Bemidji . Health officials confirmed that count on Friday and said two of those nine have been hospitalized, with one needing intensive care.

Minnesota officials had anticipated COVID-19 cases to climb in late September, the result of Labor Day weekend gatherings, sporting events and college student meetups where people didn’t stay vigilant against the virus.

The surge came and the hospitalizations appear to be following. Daily counts of new hospital admissions still remain below their late May peak, but they’re climbing back toward it.

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On Thursday, officials reported the second-highest number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions in a single day in the pandemic, suggesting that some of the recent surge in newly confirmed cases is surfacing now in hospital beds.

The 14 deaths reported Friday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,121. Among those who’ve died, about 71 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Of the 109,312 cases of the disease confirmed in the pandemic to date, about 89% have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. The positive test rate trend remains around 5%, a threshold of concern for public authorities trying to stem the spread of the disease.

“Even though we’re testing a lot more people, a consistent high rate of positivity means there’s a lot of disease out there,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Friday.

Despite the case jumps, state officials said they’ve changed their pandemic guidance and are increasing the allowable table/party size in Minnesota restaurants and bars. Updated rules permit as many as 10 people seated together in restaurants and event spaces, up from four or six if they were members of a single household.

Surges seen in northern, central Minnesota

Regionally, northern, southern and central Minnesota have driven much of the recent increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.

Northern Minnesota, once by far the region least affected by the disease, has seen its caseload grow dramatically in recent weeks relative to its population. It’s not clear what’s behind that.

Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.

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In southwestern Minnesota, at least 75 cases have been traced to a late-August wedding in Lyon County that officials have previously described as the state’s largest single social spreader event.

Thirty-nine cases have now been traced to a Martin County funeral, with one person hospitalized.

Southeastern Minnesota, specifically Winona, has been another hot spot as students return to college at Winona State and other schools. The problem has been compounded by similar outbreaks nearby across the Mississippi River at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

State health authorities have become increasingly concerned about the major surges of COVID-19 happening in the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin and their potential spillover effects into Minnesota.

While Minnesota is doing better than its neighbors at this point, Ehresmann noted how unpredictable the pandemic has been.

“We’re grateful for every day we’re not in an absolutely hideous place,” she said. Minnesota’s current situation “isn’t great” but “we haven’t fallen off the cliff.”

Things could change rapidly, she noted. “We could very well end up like our neighbors if we’re not careful.”

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