(FOX 9) - Gov. Tim Walz says Minnesota faces a critical period in its fight against the coronavirus, delivering a dire warning that stood in stark contrast to the more optimistic message put forward by Vice President Mike Pence during an afternoon rally in Hibbing.
As of Sunday, 582 Minnesotans were hospitalized with the virus, a 70 percent increase since the start of the month, when 343 people were in the hospital.
"The next 6-12 weeks are going to be critical in our fight against COVID," Walz told reporters on the Minnesota Department of Health's briefing Monday afternoon. "This is a goal line stand."
Case rates and hospitalizations have spiked across the Midwest. For weeks, Minnesota held out while surrounding states saw record hospitalizations.
Walz's message was in direct conflict with Pence's theme during a rally at Hibbing's airport. The event flouted Minnesota's restrictions on public gatherings, drawing an estimated 650 people -- well over the 250-person maximum set by the state.
The vice president said he and President Donald Trump were focused on fully reopening the economy and having a vaccine by the end of 2020. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said any vaccine would not be widely available to the public until next summer.
"We're doing a great job," President Trump said on the way to a campaign rally Monday. "We are absolutely rounding the corner. Other than the fake news wants to scare everybody. We are absolutely rounding the corner."
This weekend, Walz met with Dr. Deborah Birx, who heads the White House coronavirus task force. Birx thought Minnesota could prevent what is happening in Wisconsin and North and South Dakota, Walz said. Those states have some of the highest infection rates in the country.
Yet Walz said wearing masks and keeping a distance from others would be enough to help Minnesota void the same fate. Walz said only that he was "having conversations" about new economic restrictions -- a similar answer to one he's given for weeks.
When asked directly if he had a plan to close things down in mid-November -- after Election Day -- the first-term Democratic governor emphatically denied it.
"None of that is correct and none of those things have been discussed," Walz said. "There has been no discussions with that specificity. We've got a school opening plan that's working, and that's not true (more statewide closures planned)."
Walz appeared to rule out more restrictions on retail stores, saying those businesses had not experienced "massive spread" since reopening in early summer.
Instead, the governor and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm both pointed to mask wearing and said Minnesota's mask compliance is lower than the national average.
OVER 1,500 NEW COVID-19 CASES, 4 MORE DEATHS MONDAY
Minnesota health officials reported 1,578 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths Monday.
Minnesota has now seen 135,372 COVID-19 cases since the onset of the pandemic, according to the latest Minnesota Department of Health data. A total of 2,353 people in Minnesota have died from the disease.
The 1,578 newly reported COVID-19 cases were out of 23,453 tests completed in a 24-hour period—a positivity rate of 6.7%. Minnesota’s 7-day moving average positivity rate is 6.5%, up from 5.8% a week ago. Anything over 5% is a concern for MDH because it indicates a high rate of community transmission.
All four of the deaths reported Monday were in long-term care or assisted living facilities. The deaths ranged in age from 70-94 years old. Only one of the deaths was in the Twin Cities metro.
Hospitalizations are up significantly since the beginning of the month. Malcolm said there were 582 people hospitalized for COVID-19 Sunday. Minnesota started the month with 343 people in the hospital with the coronavirus.
MOST COVID-19 TRANSMISSIONS NOW COMING FROM SOCIAL GATHERINGS
MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said most COVID-19 transmission in Minnesota is now coming from social gatherings. She said people are getting sick after small gatherings because they don’t understand the risk that even a small gathering can pose.
“At the level of transmission we’re seeing right now in the community, things that may have been relatively safe a month or two ago are no longer safe,” she said.
Ehresmann said people should reconsider close gatherings with people outside their immediate household.
Malcolm said there have been 70 COVID-19 outbreaks at weddings in Minnesota since June, which have led to at least 650 COVID-19 cases and further spread to others.
OVER 3,400 COVID-19 CASES ASSOCIATED WITH SPORTS
Minnesota health officials said they have had 3,410 cases of COVID-19 associated with sports, requiring 7,000 households to isolate. That number includes two confirmed outbreaks connected to high school volleyball and high school soccer and eight suspected outbreaks.