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Gov. Walz Urges Vigilance As COVID Cases Soar; Feds Sending State Nearly 1.7M Rapid Tests

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) --  Gov. Tim Walz and the state's top health officials addressed Minnesota's COVID-19 situation on Monday afternoon, urging residents to not be anything other than vigilant as the state's virus statistics continue to soar.

"Just because we want it over, does not make it over," Walz said. "We know what we can do to slow the spread of COVID."

The governor called on Minnesotans to avoid large gatherings and to continue practicing social distancing. He added that the next couple of months will be crucial in the fight against the virus.

"We need to take action right now," Governor Tim Walz said.

With a 70% spike in hospitalizations in the last month, health officials worry about what's to come. Minnesota hit a new daily high for hospitalizations with 614 -- the highest since May.

On Monday, President Trump's Administration announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is sending 1,690,00 Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 antigen tests to Minnesota.

The rapid point of care tests, which can diagnose coronavirus infection in as little as 15 minutes, will be distributed at the discretion of Gov. Walz "to support testing K-12 students, teachers, nursing home patients and staff, higher education, critical infrastructure, first responders, and other priorities as he deems fit."

"To facilitate the continued re-opening of Minnesota schools, businesses and economy, the Trump Administration has prioritized scaling up the state's point of care testing capacity through deregulatory actions and smart strategic investments," Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, said. "Distributing tests directly to states is consistent with the Trump Administration's successful, ongoing approach of testing the right person, with the right test at the right time, and the effort will continue until the pandemic is under control."

Minnesota has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the month, with health officials reporting at least 20 days where newly-reported infections were over 1,000. Indeed, two days saw totals breach 2,000 new cases.

This month has also brought the largest spike in daily COVID-19 deaths seen since May, with 35 new deaths being reported on Oct. 21.

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Coming off a weekend meeting at Mayo Clinic with the White House's COVID-19 Advisor, Walz called the next six to twelve weeks critical in Minnesota and the Midwest.

Health officials point to high case and hospitalizations in western Minnesota where they say there is greater resistance to guidelines.  Statewide, more than 70 outbreaks have been tied to weddings since June. 27% of Minnesota schools have had at least one COVID case.

The same with more than half of all colleges.

"The takeaway from all of these numbers that we've all shared is Minnesota is experiencing a very high level of community transmission of a disease that can cause a huge range of impacts," Kris Ehresman from Minnesota's Department of Health.

"Now it seems they are picking back up a bit," Dr. Andrew Laudenbach said.

As an Emergency Physician at Hennepin Healthcare, Dr. Andrew Laudenbach is urging people to consider those impacts as critical patients will sometimes take weeks to recover.

"One patient being admitted to the hospital with COVID in a way takes up as many places in the hospital as a few patients being admitted for something else," Dr. Laudenbach said.

Dr. Laudenbach has personally cared for more than 60 COVID patients in the pandemic, so far.

Worried that people are no longer taking it as seriously as they should.

"Now we have an election, we have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and most of those things you're not doing outside.  We want to make sure as many people as possible stay healthy," Dr. Laudenbach.

The governor mentioned Monday they would also like more mask compliance across the state and for more asymptomatic people to also be tested if they have been exposed to the virus.

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