Three things to know:
Active cases at lowest point since early October
Officials warn of vaccine scams popping up
Could take months to vaccinate all Minnesotans 65 and older
Updated 3:24 p.m.
State public health leaders pleaded for patience Tuesday over the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, saying it could take up to four months to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older given the current rate of vaccine shipments.
“We are getting Minnesotans vaccinated safely and quickly as supplies come to us,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Tuesday. But “we just don’t have enough vaccine and everyone is going to have to be patient.”
Ehresmann’s comments came hours after state Health Department data showed vaccinations had hit a speed bump — fewer than 6,400 vaccinations reported Tuesday following three days where daily vaccinations averaged close to 40,000.
While Tuesday’s number may turn out to be anomaly, the data underscored the growing urgency being felt to get shots into arms. More than 447,000 Minnesotans received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Sunday, about 8.1 percent of the state’s population.
The state’s federal vaccine allocation is rising. But given the current rate of shipments, Ehresmann said it would take 16 weeks to vaccinate Minnesotans age 65 and older along with the other priority populations that “we need to get through.”
She also warned people to be wary of phone scams that are now popping up, with people calling and offering to ship vaccine directly to residents or put them on a priority list for a free. Those are all fraudulent.
“If they ask for your credit card, bank account or Social Security number … that’s a scam,” Ehresmann said.
Concerns continue to simmer over the speed of the effort — and the confusion it’s generated as people struggle to find out when and where they can get a shot.
A lottery system intended to distribute some vaccine to those 65 and older created a rush that officials couldn’t come close to meeting — more than 226,000 people signed up online and by phone last week for a chance at one of the roughly 8,000 to 9,000 doses available.
On Monday, Gov. Tim Walz announced more than 35,000 Minnesotans ages 65 and older will get a chance to be vaccinated this week at community vaccination sites but also at clinics and hospitals.
The state is also pushing ahead with several mass vaccination sites in the states to go along with vaccine deliveries through pharmacies, health clinics and hospitals.
This week, the state launched an online vaccine-finder website to help connect older Minnesotans to available supplies, but the site caused a surge that inundated some local providers.
Deb Keaveny, a McLeod County pharmacist, said Monday she’d been flooded with calls from people trying to schedule their vaccinations since the new state website went live. Store operators did not get a heads-up the site was running, and the vaccine isn’t yet flowing to pharmacies like the one she runs.
“When are you getting the vaccine? When can we book an appointment?” she said, ticking off the questions she’s being asked but can’t answer. “I feel tough for the people that are calling us because we don’t have the answers because we didn’t know that was going to happen.”
Hopeful trends hold steady
Overall, Minnesota’s COVID-19 trend lines remain encouraging rolling into February.
The state Health Department on Tuesday reported 633 newly confirmed or probable cases, and 8,327 known, active cases. Both are at their lowest point since late September, early October. Active cases are down more than 80 percent from late November when the count hovered around 50,000.
The numbers also continue to look good on hospitalizations — 394 Minnesotans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, with 84 needing intensive care. Those ICU cases are at their lowest point since Sept. 19.
Eight newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,210. Among those who’ve died, about 63 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
On a positive note, the average of new cases in congregate care facilities is now at its lowest level since September.
The state’s recorded 463,132 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic. Of those, about 97 percent of people have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The hopeful outlook is tempered now by concerns over new virus strains arriving in the United States. All three known new COVID-19 variants have now been confirmed in the U.S., including a case of the Brazilian strain identified recently in Minnesota.
“There’s still a lot of information that we don’t have about these variants,” Ehresmann told reporters Monday as she cautioned the state wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Beyond the new strains, she noted the state is starting to see outbreaks since it began easing gathering restrictions at bars and restaurants, as well as youth sports. “Although our case numbers are down, that doesn’t mean we’re feeling comfortable that everything’s great and we can open up,” Ehresmann said.
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 88,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 46,000 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.
Caseloads are trending down across all regions of the state following a late December, early January blip.
Hot spots continue to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.
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 ease 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.
Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents during the pandemic. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
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.
After slow start, Minnesota long-term care centers get more vaccinations: A federal COVID-19 vaccine program for Minnesota’s most vulnerable people is going more slowly than expected. Walgreens and CVS are part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program to vaccinate residents and staff in a majority of the long-term care facilities.
35K vaccine doses for older Minnesotans this week; permanent sites to open: More than 35,000 Minnesotans ages 65 and older will be able to get COVID-19 vaccines this week at community vaccination sites but also at clinics and hospitals, Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday. The state is also opening up three permanent vaccination sites, in Minneapolis, Duluth and southern Minnesota.
In Mayo ICU, the cleaning routine is the same; it’s the heartache that’s new: Every day, Mayo Clinic’s housekeeping staff works behind the scenes to keep the COVID-19 intensive care unit clean and safe for patients and staff.
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