- Associated Press - Friday, October 16, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota health officials reported nearly 2,300 new coronavirus cases Friday, the first time the state has surpassed the 2,000 mark since the pandemic began.

The surge comes as neighboring Wisconsin and the Dakotas experience some of the worst per-capita transmission rates in the country. Minnesota’s 2,297 new cases, which included 10 probable cases, raised the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 119,396, including 251 probable cases.

“I’m very saddened and I’m deeply worried about today’s numbers, but I’m not surprised,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters during a briefing Friday.

Friday’s case count was 50% higher than the state’s last daily record of 1,516 cases set last Saturday. The results came on record-high testing.

Minnesota is seeing a “steady, inexorable spread in communities across the state” from people who have the virus but don’t have symptoms, Malcolm said. “It’s just critical that people take this seriously. … These are preventable illnesses.”

North Dakota leads the country with 978 cases per 100,000 residents as of Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, followed by South Dakota at 893 cases per 100,000 residents. Wisconsin ranked fourth at 639, while Iowa was ninth at 432. Minnesota ranked 18th at 301.

Health officials have cautioned that while Minnesota isn’t faring as poorly as its neighbors, the state can’t afford to let down its guard. Malcolm said Minnesota’s surge is starting to look more like the rampant spread in Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported 13 new deaths, raising the state’s total to 2,212, including nine from probable cases.

The department this week began reporting probable cases, based on results from a new antigen test that’s less accurate but faster and more convenient than the commonly used PCR test, which is considered the gold standard and yield’s confirmed cases.

Surging coronavirus cases in Minnesota schools have reduced the number of counties where the virus is spreading at low enough rates to allow for full, in-person instruction.

State health officials say more than 500 schools statewide have had at least one positive case in the last two weeks, and 24 public and private schools reported outbreaks with at least five positive cases.

Only Cook and Kittson counties in the far northeast and northwest corners of the state now have low enough spread of the virus to meet the state’s threshold for in-person instruction for all students, the Star Tribune reported.

At the other end of the spectrum, nine counties have widespread enough virus activity for the state to recommend distance learning for all students. Those counties include Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Pipestone, Waseca and Yellow Medicine.

Health officials say they are facing increasing challenges from parents, students and community members trying to conceal the spread of the virus to keep schools open and sports programs running.

Epidemiologist Susan Klammer said that in some communities, resistance to testing or quarantining after COVID-19 exposure has become more pronounced, even hostile, since the Minnesota State High School League restarted school sports programs.

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