Dec. 22 update on COVID-19 in MN: 24 more deaths; new caseloads slowing

A woman in glasses pulls vaccine out of a vial.
Nurse practitioner Mandy Krippner preps a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday to be given to a health care worker at the St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Updated: 3:07 p.m.

Minnesota officials on Tuesday reported another 24 COVID-19 deaths, extending an already dreadful December and keeping the state on a path to reach a brutal milestone — 5,000 total deaths — by week’s end.

At the same time, other key COVID-19 metrics continue to offer definite signs of hope. New daily caseloads are retreating from their late November, early December peaks.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

The Health Department posted 1,714 newly confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, part of more than a week of relatively moderate new caseloads. An expected surge from Thanksgiving gatherings hasn’t happened yet.

The agency said 1,060 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Monday, with 228 needing intensive care. The number of active, confirmed cases in Minnesota is below 20,000 the lowest since early November.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

There are “pieces of good news” surfacing in the data, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday. She applauded Minnesotans for taking precautions to stem the spread, saying it’s had a “very positive impact” and given hospitals some breathing room.

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

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Malcolm and others 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 curb the spread of COVID-19.

Tuesday’s caseload brought Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 total to 401,011. Of those, about 94 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

The deaths reported Tuesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 4,896. 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. More than 2,400 COVID-19 deaths have been reported during November and December. That’s half of all the deaths in a pandemic that began here in March.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

Last week was the single worst week in the pandemic, with 421 deaths, so roughly two or three people per hour on average died last week from COVID-19, the commissioner said. December is already the deadliest month in the pandemic.

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations

Caseloads spread across age groups

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — nearly 77,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 41,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

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

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

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

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

New cases ebb across 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.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

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

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

Minnesota, Wisconsin to provide at-home COVID tests

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday that his administration has partnered with a medical testing company to provide at-home COVID-19 tests for free if a requestor lacks health insurance coverage as the state set a new record high in deaths tied to the disease.

The Wisconsin governor said his administration has struck a deal with Vault Medical Services to provide free at-home COVID-19 saliva tests. Anyone can order a test through the state Department of Health Services website starting immediately.

After a testing kit arrives, users must collect a sample as a Vault testing supervisor looks on via a Zoom connection. Users will then mail the sample back to a Vault lab using a prepaid label that comes with the kit. Results will take between two and three days.

Evers' administration did not include the cost of the program in the announcement. Vault's website indicates people can order a test for themselves for $119 per kit. Wisconsin’s Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said during a teleconference with reporters that a requester's health insurance provider will be billed. If the provider won't cover the test or a requester lacks health insurance the state will pay for it, she said.

Minnesota officials have reached a similar deal with Vault on at-home tests.

— The Associated Press

Some bars, eateries continue defying no-service rules

The Reopen Minnesota Coalition says some bars and restaurants continue to offer inside service despite Gov. Tim 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.

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 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.

Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove says 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.

— 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

Top headlines

Walz says state expects 250K COVID vaccine doses by year-end: Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday said the wheels are turning now on initial plans to vaccinate Minnesotans against COVID-19 and the process is working largely as expected. “The days ahead are brighter,” Walz told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “The vaccines are here. They’re being distributed as efficiently as we can. Demand outstrips supply at this point, but we’ll get there.”

Minnesota’s congressional delegation backs stimulus plan: Some of Minnesota’s representatives in Washington say the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill isn’t perfect, but they supported it, saying some help is better than none.

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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