As CDC urges Michigan to shut down, Gov. Tim Walz watches closely

Walz says there are no imminent plans to dial back.
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Governor Tim Walz continues to monitor the escalating COVID-19 numbers in Minnesota, but has no imminent plans to dial back the reopening of the state's economy. 

Speaking Tuesday from a new community vaccination clinic at the State Fairgrounds, Walz said the situation in Michigan, where cases and hospitalizations have risen faster than any other place in the country in the past month, is concerning considering Minnesota's increases are following a similar pattern. 

"We have a very challenging situation in Michigan," Walz said. "There is a concern because over the past 15 months we've seen some pretty discernible patterns that happen when growth happens."

According to Dr. Michael Osterholm, infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota, the coronavirus has shown a pattern of flaring up regionally at different points, with the Upper Midwest and Northeast seeing surges while southern states stay quiet, and vice versa. 

Minnesota's 7-day average number of cases in early March was around 800. That number has jumped to nearly 2,400 as of April 12, and with the increased cases has come a spike in hospital admissions. On Mar. 7 there were 223 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Minnesota; there are now 676 people being treated for the virus in a hospital. 

Here's how Minnesota's hospital admissions have progressed since Mar. 1.

  • Mar. 1: 251 (191 non-ICU, 60 ICU)
  • Mar. 7: 223 (177 non-ICU, 46 ICU)
  • Mar. 13: 255 (194 non-ICU, 61 ICU)
  • Mar. 20: 324 (246 non-ICU, 78 ICU)
  • Mar. 27: 356 (264 non-ICU, 92 ICU)
  • Apr. 2: 439 (337 non-ICU, 112 ICU)
  • Apr. 8: 595 (461 non-ICU, 134 ICU)
  • Apr. 12: 676 (517 non-ICU, 159 ICU)

Michigan cases have reached a 7-day average of more than 7,200 while hospitalizations have rocketed from 873 on Mar. 1 to 4,205 as of Apr. 13 – just shy of the state's late-November peak of 4,306. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmore has asked – not mandated – schools to move to distance learning for two weeks, while also urging the federal government to allocate Michigan more vaccine to combat the outbreak. 

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urged the state to increase restrictions to slow the spread and not rely on more vaccine doses.

“Really what we need to do in those situations is shut things down,” Walensky said. “I think if we try to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact. Similarly, we need that vaccine in other places. If we vaccinate today and we will have impact in six weeks, and we don’t know where the next place is going to be that is going to surge."

Minnesota's situation isn't nearly as dire as Michigan, though Osterholm just a week ago was on WCCO Radio saying he wouldn't be surprised if Minnesota is seeing "much higher numbers than our 2,400 cases a day" within a few weeks. 

Hospitalizations in Minnesota are now currently higher than they were during the first surge in May-June of 2020, though still not near the fall peak of more than 1,800 COVID-19 hospitalizations at the end of November. 

"We are still significantly under capacity but we're seeing younger people become hospitalized when they weren't before," said Walz. "The health people believe that's because of the variants and because they spread a little more."

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The dominant strain of the virus in Minnesota is the B.1.1.7 variant, which is 50-100% more contagious and can also cause more severe illness, studies have found. 

All of this is why Walz is closely monitoring the situation, though he indicated there are less intrusive steps to the general public that could be taken before needing to dial back again – like ramping up a more aggressive testing program in schools and youth sports. 

"At this point in time we're still asking folks to wear their mask, socially distance, get the vaccine, get tested. We need to see our testing numbers come up," Walz said. "The way the virus acts, we will respond accordingly. If we start to see numbers go back up, we will see if there's things that need to happen. At this point in time we don't have plans to do that."

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