Three things to know:
Active cases down to late September levels
Vaccination pace lagging after last week’s jump
Could take months to vaccinate all Minnesotans 65 and older
Vaccinations are the one trend line in the COVID-19 pandemic that Minnesota officials want to see rising rapidly and consistently. Last week, it looked like they were taking off following a flat start.
Instead, vaccination counts have stumbled through the first half of this week, raising questions about whether the past few days are an anomaly, or if last week’s surge was a one-off. It’s not clear yet.
More than 458,000 Minnesotans received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, about 8.3 percent of the state’s population. Only about 2.2 percent had completed a full vaccine series.
On Tuesday, state officials said it could take up to four months to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older if the feds don’t deliver more vaccine faster; about 20 percent of that population has received at least their first dose.
The good news at this point is that the disease metrics continue to show the state on the right track. New cases, active caseloads and hospitalizations are all angling down even as the pace of vaccination remains frustrating.
Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:
6,234 deaths (24 new)
463,766 positive cases (669 new), 449,707 off isolation (97 percent)
6.6 million tests, 3.3 million Minnesotans tested (about 58 percent of the population)
3.2 percent seven-day positive test rate (officials find 5 percent or more concerning)
8.3 percent of Minnesotans vaccinated with at least one dose
The state Health Department on Wednesday reported 7,825 known, active cases of COVID-19 — the lowest it’s been since late September and down significantly from late November when the count hovered around 50,000.
The numbers also continue to look good on hospitalizations — 379 Minnesotans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, with 77 needing intensive care. Those ICU cases are at their lowest point since Sept. 18.
The generally 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,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, 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.
Twenty-four newly reported deaths Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,234. 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 463,766 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic. The 669 reported Wednesday marked three consecutive days with new cases coming in below 800, the first time that’s happened since early September.
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.
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 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.
Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents during the pandemic. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
‘Everyone is going to have to be patient’ on vaccines
State public health leaders have been pleading for patience over the pace of COVID-19 vaccination.
“We are getting Minnesotans vaccinated safely and quickly as supplies come to us,” Ehresmann told reporters Tuesday. But “we just don’t have enough vaccine and everyone is going to have to be patient.”
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 vaccines directly to residents or put them on a priority list for a fee. 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.
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 who still didn’t have doses.
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.”
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.
Vaccination weekend set for Minneapolis Convention Center
The state of Minnesota is launching a new, large-scale vaccination site at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The state expects to vaccinate 9,500 people, including people 65 and older, teachers and child care providers, starting Thursday and through the weekend. Additional sites are opening in Duluth and southern Minnesota in coming days, and will remain open indefinitely.
The sites will be operated by Vault Health, which runs the state’s saliva testing program.
Dan Feehan, a former Minnesota congressional candidate, is now leading Vault’s national vaccine program, including in Minnesota.
“This is incredibly exciting. People are waiting and people are looking for an opportunity like this: Not just to get their vaccination, but to get it easily, efficiently and at a high enough throughput so we can get to a lot more people,” he said.
Vault Health randomly drew names for appointments from a list of people who preregistered for slots during the initial rollout of the vaccine pilot program in January, Feehan said.
— Catharine Richert | MPR News
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