3 things to know:
Good signs on new and active case counts, hospitalizations
Daily vaccination counts see uptick, still lag late January
Nearly 30 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older now vaccinated
Updated: 3:26 p.m.
Thursday’s COVID-19 data offered reasons to stay encouraged about the path of the pandemic and reasons for hope around the pace of vaccinations. Even the state’s two top public health officials told reporters, yeah, the current situation does look pretty good.
“We’re in a better place right now than we have been for quite some time,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Thursday in a surprisingly upbeat assessment.
She and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm were quick to point out that the pandemic isn’t over and strains of the virus from Brazil and the U.K. remain concerning.
Otherwise, they were perhaps more positive than they have been in months about Minnesota’s location on the pandemic arc. “We’re closer than ever to the end,” said Ehresmann, who is not known for hyperbole.
Nearly 30 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older have now been vaccinated, she added, “which is amazing.”
Disease metrics trending the right way
The latest data shows COVID-19 metrics improving or at least trending in the right direction, along with an uptick in vaccinations.
Hospitalization counts, for instance, remain steady at late September, early October levels, with 320 Minnesotans hospitalized as of Wednesday and 78 needing intensive care. New hospital admissions remain low relative to their late November, early December surge.
Known, active caseloads came in under 8,000 for the third straight day on Thursday, the first time that’s happened in nearly five months. New cases reported were a fairly modest 907.
The overall vaccination pace appears to be gaining some traction again after falling and flattening following a late January surge. The state on Thursday reported 24,360 new vaccinations, higher than the prior Thursday.
The seven-day trend line shows an uptick, although it still lags the pace from a few weeks ago.
About 10.8 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Tuesday, with about 3.2 percent completely vaccinated.
Officials have been emphasizing over the past weeks that the relatively low flow of vaccine supplies from the federal government is the main problem holding back the pace of vaccinations. There’s data to back that up.
The state, though, was down to 29th among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hoping to speed the effort, the Health Department has opened mass vaccination sites in the Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth. Walmart and Thrifty White pharmacies will be administering about 16,000 doses of the vaccine this week for Minnesotans 65 and older at locations across Minnesota.
The state is shifting 8,000 doses for Walgreens to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older at 40 locations. Information on scheduling appointments at Walmart, Thrifty White and Walgreens will be posted through the state’s online vaccine finder.
Twenty-four reported deaths on Thursday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,343. Among those who’ve died, about 63 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
The state’s recorded 470,803 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic. About 97 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
State officials continue to caution that the hopeful trends are still tenuous, noting the new virus strains arriving in the United States, including two cases of the Brazilian strain and 18 of the U.K. variant in Minnesota.
Ehresmann on Thursday said it’s still important to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance and otherwise stay vigilant against spread of the virus and its variants. She also cautioned against unnecessary travel now, despite the below-zero weather and the desire by some Minnesotans to head south.
Cases spread across age groups, regions
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 89,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 47,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 36,000 total cases among those ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Although less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it unknowingly to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations.
People can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
Cases are trending down across all regions of the state following a late December, early January blip.
Caseloads still heaviest among people of color
In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths. That’s been especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent for much of the pandemic.
Even as new case counts continue to fall from their late November, early December peaks, the data shows people of color continue to be hit hardest.
Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, officials say, especially among unauthorized immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Thursday also acknowledged the need to ensure that vaccination opportunities be spread equitably.
Malcolm said the state will release data soon regarding vaccinations, race and ethnicity. Officials say they’re trying to improve the quality of data. Per state law, it’s been shared voluntarily, and so may be inconsistent.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health’s cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
One Minnesota health care provider using AI to prioritize patients for COVID-19 shots: How should health care providers decide who gets to the front of the line for a coronavirus vaccine? The state Health Department has mostly left that decision up to individual providers, most of whom are prioritizing their patients based on age. Others are taking a more complicated approach. Experts say those choices raise important ethical and moral issues.
DFLers debate mask law while GOP seeks to undo Walz’s COVID-19 powers: Minnesota lawmakers are taking a close and mostly partisan look at the emergency orders DFL Gov. Tim Walz began issuing last year in response to COVID-19.
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