After a week that’s seen records set and broken a number of times, Crow Wing County shattered its previous single-day total Friday, Nov. 6, with 125 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The number was nearly double the previous single-day record in the county, which was 65 cases set Oct. 30 and matched Tuesday. At least 10 more Crow Wing County residents required hospitalization this week because of serious symptoms from the disease. As of Thursday, 71 total hospitalizations were recorded among county residents. That number sat at 61 as of Oct. 30. Updated hospitalization data for the county was unavailable Friday.

Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle said these figures are both concerning and frustrating. While early in the pandemic, some believed the disease would not impact rural areas, it clearly is now, Houle said, with cases growing at a more rapid clip than those in the metropolitan area, including Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

“How can the two most populous counties in the state be doing a better job? That’s baffling to me,” Houle said Friday. “ … I’m pleased about the fact that we are doing better than some of the surrounding counties and I’m concerned that we’re doing twice as bad as the two most populous counties in the state.”

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Houle said area residents have the power to change the trajectory, but it will take a combined effort.

“Our experience with this is going to occur based on the degree to which we engage in collective action,” he said. “And if we don’t the numbers will continue to show disparity.”

Houle said even those who don’t believe the facts of COVID-19 must recognize the disruption occurring in the community.

“It’s about the disruption. And look at the disruption to schools, to parents, to day care, to employers,” Houle said. “Our collective action is going to determine our result.”

While Crow Wing County’s numbers continue to rise at a rapid pace, within the region, Todd, Morrison and Wadena counties are rising even more rapidly on a per capita basis. The most recently released 14-day case rate per 10,000 residents — a figure used to inform decisions of school officials on which learning model to employ — was higher in those three counties as well as slightly higher in Mille Lacs County. Todd County’s 14-day rate was 108.02 per 10,000, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, while Morrison County’s was 100.46. Crow Wing County’s rate was about half that — 53.25 cases per 10,000 over 14 days.

The recommended policy for counties experiencing 50 or more cases per capita in two weeks is full distance learning for both elementary and secondary students. Thirty-four counties in the state now meet that threshold.

But the most recent state data only goes through Oct. 24, which does not reflect the significant increases seen in the region since that date. Next week’s update is expected to show significant local increases. Meanwhile, the two counties with the highest population densities, Hennepin and Ramsey, have lower case rates than any of the seven area counties. While those counties began September with higher rates, the data as of Oct. 24 shows they’ve fallen below even Aitkin County, which has both the lowest number of cases and the lowest number per capita of any in the region.

State considers dialing back amid rise

Houle’s comments echoed those of state officials, who during Friday’s media briefing appealed to Minnesotans to take control of their destiny as active conversations over implementing dialback restrictions are underway.

“If Minnesotans were following the guidance that exists, we wouldn't need further dialbacks,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “But we are and will continue to look at what policy tools will be effective as we face this challenge.”

That challenge was on full display by this election week’s end, as the state recorded 5,454 cases of COVID-19 on 44,000 tests. The shocking case number pushed the statewide total over 170,000, shattering the previous one-day record by more than 1,000 cases in the process.

It was the fourth consecutive day of record new cases. The cases represented 16% seven-day case growth, a rate double the 8% growth rate for testing.

“This data,” Malcolm said, “shows us that finding more cases is not just a matter of testing more.”

The state also recorded 36 deaths Friday, a grim high-water mark for the state. Previously, the state recorded 35 deaths on both May 28 and Oct. 21. The state recorded 2,563 COVID-19 deaths so far. Of the day's 36 deaths, 23 — or nearly two-thirds — were recorded in Greater Minnesota.

The age of the deceased included three persons in their 40s. Twenty-three of the deceased were residents of long-term care.

With 936 Minnesotans hospitalized with COVID-19, 212 in the ICU, and with staff shortages climbing, ICU availability is nearing capacity in the state, according to Malcolm. There were just 23 available ICU beds in the entire Twin Cities as of Thursday.

While the state is recruiting medical reserve corps from retired clinicians and out of state resources, “the difficulty is that with COVID on the rise all over the country,” Malcolm said, “some of that surge staff is spread thin nationally right now.”

Forum News Service contributed to this story.

COVID-19 data as of Nov. 6

  • Aitkin — 289 (+75 since Friday, Oct. 30), with four (+2) deaths.

  • Cass — 615 (+206), with five deaths.

  • Crow Wing — 1,629 (+421), with 22 deaths.

  • Mille Lacs — 664 (+193), with 21 (+3) deaths.

  • Morrison — 1,020 (+168), with 10 (+1) deaths.

  • Todd — 1,052 (+167), with nine (+2) deaths.

  • Wadena — 329 (+55), with five (+2) deaths.

NOTE: These numbers are cumulative since March 21 and many are out of isolation.