Free COVID-19 testing is starting Thursday at a pop-up site in Chanhassen in response to a flare-up in cases of the infectious disease, which over the past 12 months has caused 6,724 deaths in Minnesota and 26,177 hospitalizations of state residents.
An outbreak related to organized youth sports in Carver County has contradicted otherwise improving signs of pandemic activity in Minnesota, which reports a 3.5% positivity rate of diagnostic COVID-19 testing that is below the state warning threshold of 5%.
All youth athletes are encouraged to seek weekly testing, not just in Carver but across the state, to quickly identify any further viral spread, said Dan Huff, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
“Its not necessarily because of sports its because we have a community … and the virus got into that community and it does what a virus does, it spreads,” he said. “That’s why we are focusing on this community not beceause they did anything wrong.”
“We want kids to be able to play,” he added, “and that’s why we are asking them to get tested.”
The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday reported 19 more COVID-19 deaths and 1,096 known infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the disease.
The daily tally brings Minnesota’s total to 494,106 known infections, though the exact total of people in the state who have been infected is unknown because as many as half of cases produce no symptoms.
The most aggressive estimates suggest 30% of Minnesotans have already been infected, whether confirmed through testing or not, said Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Policy and Research.
Osterholm has raised concerns over the emergence of more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The B.1.1.7 variant, first found in England, has been found in many cases in the Carver outbreak.
“I think you have to start raising the question: What happens if it continues to spread like this?” said Osterholm, noting that its emergence in England similarly started in children and young adults before spreading to more vulnerable populations.
State health officials hope that aggressive testing and contact tracing of infections can halt or slow that local outbreak, while vaccination statewide protects more people from infection.
Osterholm said there is some preliminary evidence that current vaccines work against the B.1.1.7 variant, but perhaps aren’t as effective against other variants.
The state on Thursday reported that 1,129,967 people have received COVID-19 vaccine, and that 642,701 have completed the series either by receiving two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna versions, or one dose of the new Johnson & Johnson version.
Minnesota on Thursday achieved an interim goal of providing vaccine to 70% of the state’s senior citizens, who were prioritized for initial doses along with health care workers, long-term care facility residents and educators.
The state earlier this week expanded eligibility to roughly 1.8 million non-elderly adults with chronic conditions or key front-line occupations that increase their infection risks.
Seniors have suffered 89% of Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths, including 15 of the deaths reported Thursday. However, the latest deaths included two people in their 40s and Minnesota’s 40th COVID-19 death of someone in their 30s.
New publicly available COVID-19 modeling forecasts by Mayo Clinic show no signs of dramatic increases in viral activity statewide, but some localized increases over the next two weeks.
In addition to testing taking place in Chanhassen over the next two weekends, the state also provided a pop-up testing site in Thief River Falls over the last three days in response to an increase in infections in that region.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744