ROCHESTER, Minn. — In their last news conference before the holiday weekend, state health officials threaded a needle.
We know you're going to go out and meet up with friends, they seemed to say. Please try to be smart about it.
"It's so important that we take advantage of the opportunity to be outside and celebrating with family and friends," said state commissioner of health Jan Malcolm in a Wednesday call with the press. "We really want to reinforce the important message for all of us to stay vigilant about COVID-19 during this holiday weekend. We know how tempting it is to feel like we can go back to normal, especially when we're celebrating. But we need to be in a new normal."
Malcolm encouraged Minnesotans to celebrate with people in their own household, preferentially outdoors, avoiding close congregation in crowds, and if possible save the larger get-togethers for Zoom and the like.
"If you do gather together," Malcolm added, "keep your group size limited, keep in mind that gathering outdoors is such a better environment in terms of the spread of COVID-19. But even outdoors it's important to still practice social distancing and to wear masks when you're in close proximity."
Malcolm also advised young people to consider that they may not get really sick from COVID-19, but they could easily pass it to someone who will.
"If you're in bars and restaurants," she said, "spread out, wear masks, carry hand sanitizer."
In other news Wednesday, Malcolm stated that the health department has recommended to the governor that he adopt a statewide mask ordinance, and said the governor is giving it serious consideration.
"We do recommend that it be a requirement at the statewide level," Malcolm said. "He is very seriously considering our recommendation."
The state health department reported 426 cases and 4 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, July 1.
Cases were spread across the state, apportioned to counties largely by population. Outliers included Blue Earth County with 18 cases, and Rice County with 14 cases.
Blue Earth County is home to Mankato, site of a recent outbreak in bars and restaurants, while Rice County is home to Faribault, where two inmates died of COVID-19 last week. The state now says that 300 recent cases are associated with bars.
One death each was reported in St. Louis and Ramsey counties on Wednesday, and two in Dakota County. All were residents of long-term care. The total number of lives lost in the state to the virus is now 1,445.
The state reported 11,886 tests on Wednesday. While the nearly 12,000 daily tests is high compared to one month ago, state health officials are hoping to see daily testing participation rise substantially.
On Monday Gov. Tim Walz and state health commissioner Jan Malcolm were joined by officials from Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota as they announced that the state reached its moonshot goal: the lab capacity to conduct 20,000 tests a day.
The state now encourages all Minnesotans who believe they have reason for concern to seek testing, with or without symptoms. This is running into a conflict with insurers, as reports have emerged that large payers are not uniformly authorizing tests for asymptomatic persons.
Getting 20,000 Minnesotans to take them up on that invitation during the same 24 hour period has remained elusive.
With just 125 people in the ICU for COVID-19 — a drop of nine from Tuesday — the hard metrics of health care utilization continues its downward trend. An additional 135 Minnesotans are hospitalized with the virus in non-ICU settings.
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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.