ROCHESTER, Minn.The state of Minnesota reported another 681 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, July 29. The new cases were spread broadly across the state, appearing in 59 of the state's 87 counties, according to the state Department of Health.

"We're seeing COVID transmitted across the state," said Minnesota Department of Health director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann at an afternoon news conference Wednesday. "No portion of the state is immune to it. It's not just the metro. That's why we keep reminding people that no place is really safe from COVID."

Hennepin County leads the state with nearly 17,000 diagnosed cases. Ramsey County is in second with just over one-third that amount, at more than 6,500 cases.

Larger metro area suburbs are in the 1,000 to 3,000 case range, and larger outstate cities outstate in 1,000 to 2,000 range. Stearns County is an outlier for its size with more than 2,700 cases, while northernmost Lake of the Woods County has only one.

"Weekly average case growth is increasing and we're concerned about where this is headed," Ehresmann said. "We had 16 more people hospitalized yesterday compared to the day before ... the last time we had hospital and ICU usage this high was a month ago."

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Ehresmann added that cases are rising in long-term care facilities, saying that the rise is driven by cases being brought in from staff. She cited 83 new cases in the long-term care sector Tuesday and, of the 83 new cases, Ehresmann said, 19 were residents while 64 were among health care workers.

"This is a concern for us, because no matter how hard everyone works to prevent the spread of COVID among residents, there are limits to what we can do from a system standpoint to prevent workers from getting infected and unknowingly bringing it into facilities where they work. This is why you keep hearing us talk about not only your own risk level but the impact you'll have on others if you get sick."

The health official said Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, July 30, would be announcing his decision regarding the fate of schools in the fall, a subject leading her to link individual vigilance with controlling the spread and reopening schools.

"One of the reasons we are so concerned about the rise in case numbers," Ehresmann said, "is because we recognize the value of school, and of in-person learning if it is safe. We would like to see our numbers in a place where all of those options are available."

The state also reported another nine deaths from the illness on Wednesday. One death each was reported in Crow Wing, Stearns, Sherburne and Washington counties, three in Ramsey County and two in Hennepin County. Seven of the nine deaths were residents of long-term care.

"We cannot do this on our own," Ehresmann said. "The ultimate success or failure of this COVID fight is largely in the hands of each and every individual Minnesotan. We're all directly involved and have choices to make."

"Every time you mask up or don't, every time you observe social distancing or don't, every time you stay home and separate if you're sick or waiting for COVID tests results or don't, cover your cough and wash your hands or don't ... Every time you choose to do the right thing or ignore guidance you are contributing to the solution or the crisis."

The state reported another 13,481 tests on Wednesday. The health systems in coordination with the state health department have now conducted 993,091 tests, and Thursday will likely surpass 1 million total tests given.

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Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.