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How long can Minnesota keep COVID-19 positive test rate down?

Could Minnesota follow a similar path to Florida and Texas?
coronavirus, COVID-19 test

More than half of the states in the U.S. are experiencing increasing levels of COVID-19, but Minnesota is among the states seeing numbers drop, namely in the metric that health officials closely monitor in order to keep businesses open. 

The World Health Organization advised government leaders in May that the positive test rate should be below 5 percent for 14 consecutive days in order to safely open the economy, which Minnesota has done in a rolling fashion over the past month and a half.

Minnesota's positive test rate over the past two weeks is 2.8 percent, well below the threshold to safely keep businesses open, albeit at reduced capacity and with recommended health practices, including wearing a mask in indoor spaces. 

Daily testing totals were made publicly available in Minnesota on Saturday, Mar. 28. We will begin this analysis on Sunday, Mar. 29, and look at how the positive test rate has evolved in 14-day increments. 

  • March 29-April 11: 5.4% positive (20,626 tests, 1,119 positive)
  • April 12-25: 14.3% positive (23,413 tests, 3,348 positive)
  • April 26-May 9: 14.3% positive (57,245 tests, 8,213 positive)
  • May 10-23: 9.6% positive (98,303 tests, 9,465 positive)
  • May 24-June 6: 4.9% positive (125,827 tests, 6,157 positive)
  • June 7-20: 2.9% positive (160,623 tests, 4,614 positive)
  • June 21-30: 2.8% positive (112,982 tests, 3,112 positive)

The big question for Minnesota is whether it is going to see a significant increase in positive tests similar to what other states in the south and west have experienced in the weeks following the reopening of their economies. 

Minnesota's economy ramped up reopening on June 10, when bars, restaurants and gyms were allowed to get back to work at reduced capacities. So far, the positive test rate is declining despite localized outbreaks connected to bars in Minneapolis, Mankato and St. Cloud. 

Texas began its phased reopening plan May 1 and experienced fairly level growth for most of May before a slight uptick in confirmed cases late-May into early June, though cases have skyrocketed in the past two weeks to the point that bars were closed and mitigation tactics were re-employed. 

The same has happened in Florida, with bars closing amid massive disease spread. 

Texas' positive test rate over the past seven days is nearly 15%, while Florida's is at 16% and Arizona is at a USA-worst 22%. Minnesota sits at 3.32% over the past seven days, according to Johns Hopkins University.

More cases put stress on healthcare providers

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there are more than 6,500 patients with COVID-19 currently in Texas hospitals. That's an increase of nearly 2,200 in the past week. Approximately 75 percent of the state's staffed hospital beds are in use. 

Florida doesn't yet report daily hospital totals for COVID-19 patients, but Miami-Dade County does, and as of Tuesday the county had more than 1,200 COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds, including 245 in intensive care and 103 needing a ventilator. 

However, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida has approximately 21 percent of its hospital bed capacity remaining but only 17.2 percent of its adult ICU beds still unoccupied. 

Minnesota has just 125 COVID-19 patients in intensive care and 135 more in general hospital care, which is the lowest number of hospitalized coronavirus patients since April 22. 

As of July 1, less than half of Minnesota's ICU bed capacity is being used (1,056 of 2,198 ICU beds), while approximately 72% of the state's ventilator inventory is unoccupied (538 of 2,930 ventilators). 

Even though Minnesota is in a pretty good spot for the moment, Texas and Florida are prime examples of how quickly mitigation tactics can be reinforced, which is what Gov. Tim Walz hinted at Monday when he warned bars and bar-goers: "Get this right or we're not going to be able to stay open."

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