ROCHESTER, Minn. — Minnesota health officials continue to share their concern that the motorcyle rally beginning this weekend in Sturgis, S.D., comes at a uniquely dangerous moment for the spread of COVID-19, both regionally and nationally.

"There is a ripple effect of our actions," state commissioner of health Jan Malcolm said during a Friday afternoon, Aug. 7, call with reporters. "That is beyond our concern for people who participate in rally itself. The hard truth is we are in a historic pandemic. The idea of bringing in tens of thousands of people from across the country in close contact raises our concerns.

"We get it that everyone is tired of COVID-19," she continued. "We understand the urge to cut loose a bit and hit the road in the summer. But we are really asking anyone who chooses to go to Sturgis to consider avoiding settings like crowded bars and places full of people who are not wearing masks."

The health official added that any Minnesotans who do go to the biker rally should voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days when they come return, "especially if you have close contact with those in a high-risk group."

The Sturgis problem, as such, provided a segue allowing health officials to underscore the changing dynamics of transmission in Minnesota nursing homes, a process that has migrated from patients giving it to staff to the reverse, and what that says about the spread of the illness statewide.

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"Since the middle of June, the majority of cases identified in long-term care facilities have been among staff," said state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield. "Data now show that over 50% of cases among health care workers and staff in these facilities were household and social contacts, as opposed to exposure from contact with residents."

By contrast, Lynfield said, in March, 87% of high-risk exposures among care staff were with residents.

"No matter how hard everyone works to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among long-term care residents, there still is a connection to the community," she said. "There is only so much we can do to prevent workers from being exposed in the community, getting infected and unknowingly bringing it in to vulnerable populations."

Health officials appear to have pivoted from a focus on processing plants, bars and care homes sources of the state's COVID-19 woes to summer fun, singling out mask-eschewing Minnesotans as those most responsible for the state's inability to control the spread of COVID-19.

The officials specifically singled out "church events, sporting events, family gatherings, parties, concerts and weddings" as the drivers behind the state's relentless succession of 500-plus daily COVID-19 cases.

"We need everyone in Minnesota to do their part to limit transmission," Lynfield said. "We are all connected to each other and it's up to all of us be part of the solution. We especially ask those in regular contact with people in a high-risk group to be careful."

Health officials Friday were asked to respond to the charge, widely circulating on social media, that they seem more concerned about transmission at Sturgis than they were during large protest rallies in late May.

"What has changed since those earlier days is a much greater degree of community transmission that we know of," Malcolm said. "In late spring most of the transmission was coming from known sources of outbreaks in congregate care or workplace settings. We're just in a really different spot now."

"Some of the activities at (Sturgis) include indoor activities where people aren't wearing masks," Lynfield added.

Indeed, clips from the event show that the town appears entirely unmasked.

Minnesota reported 556 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The new cases bring the state's laboratory-confirmed case count to 59,185.

The cases included a spike in rural McLeod County, just west of the metro, where 25 new cases were recorded. South metro Dakota County continues to post high case numbers daily: Friday it reported 61 new cases.

The state also reported an additional four deaths, including cases in Hennepin and Polk counties and two in Ramsey County. There have been 1,640 deaths from the virus in the state at this time.

Another 15,824 Minnesotans were reported Friday to have been tested, bringing the total number of residents tested to 910,271.

There are now 300 Minnesotans hospitalized with COVID-19, 145 in the ICU.

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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.