Dec. 21 update on COVID-19 in MN: Hospitalizations, new cases recede; 22 deaths

Hands hold a needle and syringe.
A dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is prepared before being administered at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Friday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 3:35 p.m.

Minnesota officials on Monday reported another 22 COVID-19 deaths, continuing an already dreadful December. But other key metrics are showing definite signs of hope.

New daily caseloads and hospital admissions continue to retreat from their late November, early December peaks.

The Health Department posted 1,998 newly confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases — the lowest count since late October, part of more than a week of relatively moderate new caseloads. Officials expected a surge originating from Thanksgiving gatherings, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The number of active, confirmed cases in Minnesota is down to around 21,000, the lowest since Nov. 4.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The agency said 1,040 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Sunday, with 237 needing intensive care. While that’s still fairly high, the seven-day trend for new hospital admissions has dropped to levels not seen since early November.

The rate of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — a metric that officials use to judge the level of virus spread in the state — continues to pull back. The seven-day positive rate trend is at about 6.7 percent, down more than half from its recent peak.

A rate of 5 percent or more is considered concerning; 10 percent is viewed as “high risk.”

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

“The bottom line is that there genuinely are pieces of good news in these data,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday.

She applauded Minnesotans for taking precautions to stem the spread, saying it’s had a “very positive impact” and “clearly created some very important respite for our health systems and hospitals.”

She also cautioned that Minnesota was not out of the woods yet.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

State health officials have warned that the improving picture could change dramatically if people don’t stay vigilant as year-end holidays approach. They continue to implore people to wear masks in indoor gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

The cases reported Monday put Minnesota at 399,311 in the pandemic. Of those, about 93 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The deaths reported Monday raised Minnesota’s toll to 4,872. Among those who’ve died, about 65 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The toll remains awful. Some 2,400 COVID-19 deaths have been reported during November and December. That’s half of all the deaths in the pandemic that started back in March.

Malcolm told reporters on Monday that she expects Minnesota to reach 5,000 deaths in the pandemic by the end of this week.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

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 76,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 40,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

New Minnesota COVID-19 cases by age, adjusted for population

The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 31,000 total cases among children 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 grandparents and other vulnerable populations.

It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.

New cases ebb in rural Minnesota

Central and western Minnesota drove much of the increase in new cases over the past two months, while Hennepin and Ramsey counties showed some of the slowest case growth in the state.

After a spike in confirmed cases through much of November and early December, all regions of the state have seen new case numbers fall.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Hot spots continue to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases

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.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by race

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

Some bars, eateries continue defying no-service rules

The Reopen Minnesota Coalition says some bars and restaurants continue to offer inside service despite Gov. Walz executive order against it.

The Minnesota Attorney General's office has taken several enforcement actions against establishments that chose to defy the governor's ban on inside eating and drinking. 

Reopen Minnesota organizer Darius Teichroew said the threat of legal penalties led to some businesses that planned to open illegally to change their mind. But other have held steadfast.

"It's been mixed. I don't know the exact numbers of how many actually ended up opening compared to what we had planned," Teichroew said. "I know some people got called and threatened even before they opened. Some got scared off because of that, but a lot of them are too desperate to do anything but at this point."

State officials say bars and restaurants violating the order could lose their liquor license and risk tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

— Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

State officials urge teens made jobless by pandemic to seek aid

Minnesota state officials are encouraging high school students who lost their jobs due to the pandemic to apply for unemployment assistance, hoping to get the help to more people who may not be aware of a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that made them eligible.

Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials held a virtual roundtable with several youth activists on Monday to get high school workers across the state who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic to apply for an estimated $14 million to $28 million in unemployment insurance funds provided by the federal CARES Act, for which they are now eligible.

“Those first few months were extremely challenging for my family and if I had been allowed benefits at the time, it would have taken an immense amount of stress off of my shoulders,” said Rahma Farah, a 17-year-old high school student from south Minneapolis and one of the teens who helped with the effort.

The appeals court's decision came after youth activists, with the help of Minneapolis youth equity nonprofit Youthprise and support from Attorney General Keith Ellison, challenged a 1939 Minnesota law deeming high school workers ineligible for unemployment benefits. The activists said during the virtual event that they relied on their paychecks to help their households pay bills and put food on the table before they lost their jobs, and deserved the unemployment benefit as taxpaying members of the workforce.

Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said that around 10,000 applications are already being processed, and between 10,000 and 15,000 students are estimated to be eligible for the program. Grove said his department held a town hall late last week to help young people navigate the application process on their website, and they plan to hold another before the application deadline on Friday.

— The Associated Press

CVS Health to vaccinate Minnesota’s long-term care residents for COVID-19

CVS Health will begin vaccinating more than 63,000 long-term care residents and workers across Minnesota next week, the company announced on Monday.

The pharmacy giant began vaccinating long-term care residents and staff in 12 states on Monday, and expects to begin administering the shot in 36 more states, including Minnesota, on Dec. 28 as part of its effort to vaccinate 4 million residents and staff at 40,000 facilities across the country in 12 weeks.

Minnesota began giving Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shots to healthcare workers last week after the vaccine received emergency approval earlier this month. The state's initial shipment last week contained 46,800 doses, and state health officials expect to receive more than 33,000 this week.

— The Associated Press

Judge denies motion for injunction against Walz’s executive order

A federal judge has denied an effort to place an injunction on Gov. Tim Walz's executive order limiting social gatherings and youth sports during the pandemic.

The parents' group called Let Them Play MN filed the suit against the state and sought the preliminary injunction, and said it is appealing Friday's ruling.

While the group's focus is youth sports, they claimed in court that Walz's order violated their constitutional right to protest, including the right to free speech.

The suit claimed the restrictions in the executive order were arbitrary and irrational, and not based on science.

In denying the motion for an injunction, Judge John Tunheim wrote Friday that the executive order's "prohibition on social gatherings has nothing to do with any message that might be conveyed at such gatherings. Rather, the prohibition has the singular intent of curbing the spread of COVID-19. As such, (the order) is neutral on its face and is thus a content-neutral regulation."

"No one is in favor of limiting cherished constitutional rights, nor should they be. But the State’s measured response, focused directly on the likely causes of the recent surge, satisfies judicial scrutiny," Tunheim wrote. "It is hoped that the restrictions on public activity will prove successful and brief."

In a statement posted online Saturday, Let Them Play MN said it has filed an appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn Tunheim's ruling. They also allege Tunheim has conflicts of interest and are seeking to have a new judge assigned to the case.

— MPR News Staff

Inmate at Faribault prison dies after COVID diagnosis

The Minnesota Department of Corrections reported Saturday that an inmate at the state prison in Faribault died after recently being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The 70-year-old man died early Saturday at a hospital in Faribault; his name has not been released. He's the ninth state prison inmate to die after a COVID diagnosis — and the fifth at the Faribault prison.

The facility has more than 270 active COVID cases among its more than 1,700 inmates, along with more than 40 active cases among staff members.

The Department of Corrections says it's working with state health officials on a plan for vaccinating inmates and staff when guidance comes from the federal government.

In addition to the nine deaths of inmates reported by the Department of Corrections, the Minnesota Department of Human Services has reported the deaths of two people in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at Moose Lake.

— MPR News Staff

Top headlines

Minnesota regulators cite more bars, restaurants for violating Walz order: Minnesota regulators on Saturday told three more establishments that they face 60-day liquor license suspensions for continuing indoor, in-person bar and restaurant service in violation of state pandemic rules.

Minn. Sen. Jerry Relph dies of COVID-19 complications: The first-term state senator from St. Cloud died Friday following a month-long hospitalization. He tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a post-election party with other Republican senators in November.

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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