‘We are the hot spot,’ Minnesota officials warn Monday

Promising “to get in a deep dive,” on numbers behind COVID-19 in the state — enough “to see the pandemic in front of you, rather than what has happened in the last 24 hours” — state commissioner of health Jan Malcolm was joined by Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Nov. 30, for an afternoon news conference to shoot down rumors, temper expectations and encourage hope.

First, about those rumors.

Such as the one on the internet about the governor shuttling off to a mansion in Florida for the holiday, a getaway where he has stashed hundreds of millions. It came up Monday after 40 minutes of COVID data-sharing, in answer to a question by a television reporter.

“It’s funny,” Walz said, “they’ll believe that I am secretly worth $400 million, but they won’t believe that I ran my 8 miles on Thursday morning down Summit and the Mississippi River.”

So for the record: no. No second home, no stash of millions, no fancy travel.

“I haven’t left the state since March,” Walz said. “I spent a night at Camp Ripley watching artillery, and I spent one night in Duluth visiting small businesses.”

The numbers made up the bulk of the hour Monday.

After a record-setting 101 deaths to end the week Friday, Nov. 27, interest has been gaining on what appears to be a crest of that wave over the weeknd, as cases and deaths fell somewhat. The death count dropped precipitously on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28 and 29, and Monday it was just 15.

“This weekend we saw an unprecedented number when we passed 100 deaths in one day,” said Walz early in the hour. “That’s very shocking. We certainly are grateful it’s 86 less deaths today. While we don’t want to downplay good information, one moment in time does not give you the broader picture.”

Malcolm was more direct.

“This is the worst spot we’ve been in since March,” she said. “That’s what the data is telling us. We are certainly looking for evidence in the coming weeks that the four week pause that we are in now has a sustainable impact on these numbers.”

The pair believes it is unlikely the state is en route to a downturn just yet, especially given the approaching fallout from likely thousands of Minnesotans having gathered (against health advice) with relatives over Thanksgiving.

“The upper Midwest has been hit particularly hard in recent weeks,” Malcolm said. “Minnesota was doing noticeably better than our neighbors for quite a while, but unfortunately that’s now changed. Minnesota now has more cases per population than New York, Arizona, Texas or Florida, other previous hot spots. We are the hot spot.”

Next was the inevitable question about what’s in store for Christmas.

“We’ll see where we’re at,” said Walz. “We will not be into the heart of the vaccine distribution by then … at this point in time I think the guidance around Christmas is going to be very similar to that around today.”

“We know there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Malcolm added, “we can see the vaccines at the end of the tunnel. It won’t be a short tunnel, but we can look forward to better days in 2021. That said, we want to get there with as many healthy Minnesotans as we can.”

The state reported 5,801 new cases on Monday, on top of 23,000 from Friday through Sunday.

The 15 deaths reported Monday raised the state death toll to 3593, with 2413 — or 67% — of those occurring in long-term care.

Health officials said that while Minnesota is better than most states in keeping care home residents safe — that it is 37th in the nation in terms of resident cases and deaths per 1,000 residents — the numbers are finally beginning to worsen.

“People in long-term care are not getting COVID from people coming back from the hospital,” Walz said in shooting down another falsehood making the rounds. “They’re getting it from workers in the community.”

“Those are the types of things that undermine faith in our institutions and the system. For the people that want to vote against me,” he added, “they can find a million reasons that are probably true, rather than resort to (false rumors).”

“The thing I most worry about is that if you’re willing to believe those types of things without any proof, you’re probably not going to listen to me when I tell you to wear a mask.”

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