ST. PAUL — Young bar-goers in south-central Minnesota fueled a recent surge in coronavirus cases in the region, state health officials said.

A reported COVID-19 cluster developed in southern Minnesota and among around 100 who tested positive for the illness, many in their 20s said they had visited several bars on June 12 and 13, state health officials said Wednesday, June 24.

The reports come as the Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday reported that five more Minnesotans had died from COVID-19, and 304 had tested positive for the illness. The totals bring the number of Minnesotans who've perished from COVID-19 to 1,397 and the number who've become sickened with the illness to 33,763.

As Minnesotans continue visiting newly-reopened restaurants and bars, state health officials urged them to continue practicing health and safety measures to limit the disease's spread. Restaurant and bar owners aren't required to report illness among their staff or customers.

"We're seeing some increases in disease in south-central Minnesota in young adults in their 20s," Minnesota Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said. "We want to make sure that even as we're happily taking advantage of the opening up of bars and restaurants that people, even if you're young and even if you feel that your personal risk is low, that you are continuing to social distance and wear masks if possible."

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Ehresmann said young people may not be as concerned about their risk of serious complications from COVID-19, but they should be mindful that they can contract the illness as easily as anyone else and potentially spread it to others. And those individuals who are older or have underlying health conditions could face more serious complications from COVID-19.

"I think all of us are eager to be out and we just have to make sure that we're doing that in a thoughtful and cautious manner," Ehresmann said.

State health officials on Wednesday also reported a disparity in the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 following participation in protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Minnesotans of color seemed to be disproportionately impacted by the illness, Ehresmann said.

Of the protest participants tested in the Twin Cities metro area, 0.2% of white demonstrators tested positive for the illness, as compared to 1.3% of Black individuals who contracted the illness, 5% of Asian American demonstrators who tested positive for COVID-19 and 7.4% of Latino individuals tested who had the disease. Ehresmann said other factors like work conditions could fuel the higher rate of COVID-19 positivity in some groups as compared to others.

"We're working to take into account these disparities and concerns in our testing strategies and our overall response," Ehresmann said.

Amazon employees ask for help

Several workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee on Wednesday said they'd been sickened with COVID-19 on the job and called for the state to temporarily shut down the center to clean and put in place more safety protocols for workers. Dozens of cases have been reported among workers there in recent weeks and workers sickened said they unintentionally spread the virus to family members.

"They are not focusing on our safety, they're just saying it. They're just focused on how they're making us more afraid and how they're not taking this seriously," Hibaq Mohamed, a warehouse associate at the facility, told reporters.

Ehresmann said the state has worked with the facility to set in place more safety protocols and to recommend screening and social distancing measures.

There were 340 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Wednesday with 160 in intensive care. Since the pandemic took hold in Minnesota, 29,707 have tested positive for the illness and been able to come out of isolation.

The five who died from the illnesses were between the ages of 50 and 99 and three lived in private residences while two lived in long-term care facilities. The individuals resided in Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties.

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