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Coronavirus: First cases of community transmission confirmed in Minnesota

Health officials suspect there are "many more" cases than just those that have been confirmed.

There are 35 cases of the novel coronavirus in Minnesota, but state health officials say the numbers are doubtless higher now that state has confirmed its first instances of community transmission. 

Community transmission of COVID-19 is when a person contracts the virus from an unknown source in the community, with all of Minnesota's other cases involving people who have recently traveled, or had known exposures to someone with disease.

The first three cases of community-borne transmission in Minnesota include one each from Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota counties. 

A few days ago, health officials in Ohio estimated that because of community transmission there could be as much as 1 percent of the state's population infected with COVID-19. One percent of Ohio's population would represent more than 100,000 people. At the time the estimate was made, there were only five confirmed cases in Ohio. 

Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director with the Minnesota Department of Health, is not putting specific numbers on how many Minnesotans may be infected now that community transmission has been confirmed. 

Counties where COVID-19 has been confirmed. 

Counties where COVID-19 has been confirmed. 

"At this point we're not making an estimate of the total number of cases that could be out there, but we do think it's important for people to recognize that when we have identified community transmission. That means we know the number of cases we're reporting is fewer than actually is," said Ehresmann.

"It is important for people to realize that when we say we've got community transmission, and we have three instances of it in cases reported yesterday, that does not mean that just three people in the community have COVID-19. That means we are seeing transmission within those communities so there are many more cases than have come to detection." 

None of the three patients have recent travel history out of the state. In short, they have no idea how they got COVID-19. 

"They were pretty surprised that they were positive, actually," said Ehresmann. "They were out in the community, so in other words we don't have anyone who stayed inside the four walls of their residence and never went out and developed illness."

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Ehresmann stressed that staying home and avoiding large gatherings is especially important for people age 70 or older or anyone with any kind of underlying health conditions that could make them higher risk for severe symptoms.

"We knew that we were going to have community transmission and our goal continues to be to really slow down the spread of this disease," Ehresmann added. "If you are sick, it doesn't matter who you are, what your job is, you need to stay home if you're sick. 

Of the 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, two of which involve patients who are hospitalized. Of the 14 new cases confirmed Saturday to Sunday, they include people of the following ages: 

  • 20 (2)
  • 22
  • 23
  • 28
  • 29
  • 31 (2)
  • 40
  • 42
  • 53
  • 54
  • 58
  • 94

The MDH also confirmed that a teenager from Dakota County is the only school-age patient with the coronavirus, although health officials aren't making public which school the student attends.

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