Minnesota health officials had been watching for signs that a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus had entered the state — and over the weekend, they received confirmation.
The Health Department reported late Saturday that five people in the Twin Cities metro area had contracted the variant — and that it likely was more widespread across the state.
“We were expecting to find the virus (variant) in Minnesota. Knowing that it is now here does not change our current public health recommendations,” state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said in a news release. “While it is thought to be more easily spread from one person to another, it has not been found to cause more serious disease.”
Preliminary indications are that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the coronavirus variant, which emerged last fall in the United Kingdom.
It had been confirmed in at least eight other states before the cases were found in Minnesota.
Notably, health officials said the Minnesota cases had an onset of symptoms dating as far back as mid-December — meaning the variant has been circulating for some time.
Health officials said it’s too soon to know how the variant may affect the course of the pandemic in Minnesota — but they stressed that no matter what variants are circulating in the state, the familiar safety measures of wearing a face covering and maintaining physical distancing can help slow their spread.
The news came as Minnesota bars and restaurants are allowed to offer indoor dining again with limits, starting Monday, as state pandemic restrictions are scaled back. Movie theaters, museums and other entertainment venues can also reopen after being closed since mid-November.
Meanwhile the state reported 87 more COVID-19 deaths over the weekend, with 4,654 additional cases.
New hospital admissions fell to their lowest level in more than two months on Sunday.
Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics from Sunday:
5,707 deaths (44 new)
436,572 positive cases (2,165 new), 414,756 off isolation (95 percent)
5.9 million tests, 3.1 million people tested (about 60 percent of the population)
Health officials said Sunday that 132,280 Minnesotans have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly 400,000 doses of the vaccine have been delivered to Minnesota since mid-December, but health officials warn it will take through the end of January to vaccinate those designated in phase 1A of the vaccine rollout.
Caseloads spread across age groups
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 83,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 44,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 33,000 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 to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations.
It’s of particular concern because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
New cases spread across Minnesota, not just one region
The minor bump in new cases is happening across the state, not just in one particular region. Both the Twin Cities metro and rural parts of the state have seen reported cases rise.
All regions are seeing an average of around 50 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, with northwestern Minnesota showing the lowest rate of new diagnoses.
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 peak a few weeks ago, 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. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
Developments around the state
Minnesota tweaks phone alert system that tracks COVID
Minnesota is making some changes to the phone alert system it uses to help track COVID-19.
The change applies to many users of Apple’s iPhone. The state’s information technology agency, MNIT, said this weekend that users with newer operating systems will get a prompt that allows them to turn on exposure notifications, without using the separate COVID-19 app. It’s part of technology widely in use already, developed by Apple and Google, that can be incorporated into a phone’s operating system.
The service has all the same features as the app, using Bluetooth technology and randomly assigned numbers to detect others in close proximity, and later share anonymously if either party reports a positive COVID-19 test. The new version, like the app itself, does not collect individual information or track locations.
— Tim Nelson | MPR News
10th Minnesota state prison inmate dies after COVID diagnosis
An inmate at the Minnesota prison in Faribault died Friday night at a Minneapolis hospital. Department of Corrections officials said he recently was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The 57-year-old man is the 10th COVID-related death of an inmate in the state prison system, and the sixth from the Faribault prison. The man’s name was not released.
Corrections officials said late Friday that three other inmates who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 were in critical condition.
More than 10 percent of the nearly 1,700 inmates in the Faribault prison were positive for COVID-19 as of Friday.
Corrections officials said they’ve started to vaccinate prison health-care staff as well as inmates who are in long-term care settings, following state and federal vaccination guidelines.
— MPR News staff
Minnesota health officials confirm five cases of coronavirus variant in Twin Cities: The Health Department said the five cases come from four different counties in the metro area — Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Carver. But the variant was found by sampling recent COVID specimens, and health officials say that means there likely are cases in other counties, too — so Minnesotans should assume the variant is circulating among coronavirus cases in their community.
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.
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