State public health leaders have sharpened their messages of personal responsibility recently in the COVID-19 pandemic, concerned that Minnesotans are starting to go numb to the risk.
Two announcements Friday hammered that point home.
Health officials said they’d confirmed 15 cases of COVID-19 among Minnesotans who traveled to South Dakota for the massive Sturgis motorcycle rally, and they expect more to come.
And in Northfield, Minn., 17 St. Olaf students were suspended for the fall semester for being at an off-campus party without wearing masks or social distancing. At least one person was infected with COVID-19 and exposed others.
Coronavirus statistics in Minnesota as of Saturday:
68,867 total cases confirmed (746 new), 61,698 off isolation
1,761 deaths (eight new)
316 currently hospitalized; 148 in intensive care
“This is the kind of reckless behavior that will put an end to our in-person semester, and it must stop,” David Anderson, St. Olaf’s president said Friday. “Others in attendance exposed innocent students, like roommates, who are now having to pay a costly price for others’ poor choices.”
His message was directed at students, but it echoed the growing concerns of health leaders generally that Minnesotans are on the wrong path now if they hope to return to life before the virus.
Public health leaders have worried for weeks about Minnesotans carrying COVID-19 back from Sturgis. Among the 15 Minnesota cases confirmed Friday, one person is in the hospital.
More cases are expected to surface in the coming days from the Aug. 7-16 rally, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director. She urged anyone who went to self-isolate for 14 days, get tested if they don’t feel well and stay home until they get the test results.
The rally drew some 460,000 people from across the country. Most people didn’t take significant precautions against COVID-19 infections.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm had repeatedly expressed concerns that Sturgis would be a petri dish for the disease and that she was disappointed South Dakota had OK’d the rally given that it would attract people from around the country, including places where COVID-19 cases were climbing.
Sturgis, she said as the rally kicked off, will be a “pretty ripe environment for further spread.”
Southern Minnesota cases trending up
Regionally, the Twin Cities and its suburbs have been driving the counts of newly reported cases, although there’s an upswing now in southern Minnesota.
Northern Minnesota cases have been mostly on the rise since early July, although new counts have retreated in recent days. Beltrami County, home to Bemidji, has seen a steady climb the past few weeks. The county reported 291 cases and one death as of Saturday.
Meatpacking operations had been hot spots for big outbreaks in southwest, west-central and central Minnesota earlier in the pandemic.
New cases have slowed considerably in recent weeks, although the problem has…