Large events, in-person learning creating COVID concerns

(KSTP)- The Minnesota Department of Health says if more COVID-19 mitigation efforts aren’t taken inside schools and at large events, the community spread will get worse.

Monday, 22 more deaths and 2,803 cases were reported by MDH. It also said 86 counties in the state have a "high level of COVID-19 community transmission" – including one county, Cook, at a "substantial spread."

From the Minnesota State Fair, which drew in more than 1.3 million people, to Minnesota Vikings games, to a packed Xcel Energy Center for a Harry Styles concert, the last few weeks have been filled with many large gatherings.

“I think it is concerning,” Kris Ehresmann, MDH’s director of infectious disease, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS about the large events.

Ehresmann specifically mentioned it’s concerning because of the delta variant.

“Our guess is we’ll likely see many more cases following the games,” Ehresmann added about the Vikings home games.

U.S. Bank Stadium recommends people wear masks, but they’re not required.

That was the case at the Minnesota State Fair as well. In the three weeks since the end of the fair, MDH has tracked 318 cases to it. But, Ehresmann said that number is likely much higher.

“There’s a larger portion of people who, when we’re reaching out to them to do the case interview, are not picking up the phone, and many we interview are not forthcoming with their activities,” Ehresmann said.

“Given that we’re not hearing from many people, we could probably multiply [the 318 cases connected to the fair] by three just to get a guess at what we think may be a reasonable number,” she added.

For those attending the Harry Styles concert at Xcel Energy Center, they needed to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

MDH is also keeping close tabs on how schools are handling in-person learning.

“We are seeing a lot of activity with our schools in terms of COVID,” Ehresmann said. “A lot of COVID activity, a lot of cases and, of course, that is concerning to us,” she added about cases in schools.

According to MDH, over the last week, 167 school buildings have had an outbreak. MDH says the average number of cases for those outbreaks is eight to nine, but one school had 34 children infected.

“Unless there is some pretty clear mitigation measures put in place, it will probably get worse before it gets better,” Ehresmann said.

She also expressed frustration that some districts aren’t using all the tools and guidance the department has laid out for in-person learning. As more cases pop up, Ehresmann said more districts have expressed interest in more testing for students and staff.

The key to slow down community spread, according to Ehresmann, is to layer mitigation measures – that includes vaccination, masking, social distancing and testing, to name a few. Despite your vaccination status, if you attend a large event indoors, MDH says wearing a mask is important to help slow down the spread of COVID-19.