Jan. 5 update on COVID-19 in MN: 18 new deaths, Minn. waits for restriction rollbacks

A man uses a needle to administer a vaccine.
Pharmacy intern Joseph Ahenkorah administers a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to Cari Giroir, a licensed practical nurse, at the Gardens of Episcopal Homes in St. Paul on Dec. 30.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Updated: 1:10 p.m.

Minnesota reported 18 more deaths caused by COVID-19 Tuesday, along with 1,612 new cases ahead of an announcement from Gov. Tim Walz that he’ll loosen restrictions on bars and restaurants.

The 18 additional deaths make it the second straight day with a toll of fewer than 20. That hasn't happened since before Election Day, though it’s still unknown if the data provided in recent days have been affected by the holiday season.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Minnesota’s positivity rate has also seen a mild uptick, with the daily rate at 10.4 percent, and a seven-day rolling average at just under 6 percent.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

At the same time, the state reported only 2,455 new vaccinations, putting the total at 80,857, and keeping vaccinations well behind the number of doses available across the state.

The latest numbers come as Walz plans to announce a rollback of restrictions for indoor dining this week, his office said Monday evening. Minnesota’s current COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining, run through late Sunday.

“Many of them are ready to put in mitigation efforts. But I think this idea that everybody is going to go back in maskless and pack these places, that’s not the way it’s going to look,” the governor said.

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He said coronavirus test positivity rates are lower than they were when the restrictions were imposed, and hospitals aren’t under as much strain. Walz said he personally would feel comfortable eating at a restaurant once indoor table service resumes.

Walz is expected to announce his next steps during a live address at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The announcement comes as Minnesota health officials say the state expects to receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate all its health care workers and most nursing-home residents by the end of January.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

While enough vaccines are available for a first shot for all health care workers designated for phase 1A, which covers health care professionals, long-term care residents and others most likely to encounter the coronavirus, Ehresmann said it would take through the month of January to complete the first round.

Case numbers have been mostly stable, although Monday marks a notable upturn. That said, state data show unusual deviations in other areas, like the percent of positive tests. That’s often a sign of data anomalies that can be linked to holiday reporting schedules.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

New hospital admissions jumped to 157, slightly over the seven-day average for new hospitalizations of 122.

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 — more than 80,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 42,000 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 32,000 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 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.

Cases continue to fall statewide, with most regions dipping down to levels before the state’s COVID-19 surge that hit in November and early December.

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

Minn. bar, restaurant owners challenge Gov. Walz’s COVID rules in court

Even with looser restrictions expected to be announced this week, bars and restaurant owners in Minnesota filed a new pair of lawsuits this week challenging Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders.

Attorney Matt Duffy represents two bars, a bowling alley and industry suppliers. He said that the state has not provided data on outbreaks at dining establishments to justify the rules and that the mandates violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because they treat retailers differently than bars and restaurants.

"We're willing to work with the governor's office. We just felt like we've been shut out so far. And I think the lawsuit was kind of the last ditch effort to get the attention of the governor,” Duffy said.

A separate group of 27 bars and restaurants also filed a similar lawsuit. Earlier legal attempts to reverse Walz's executive orders have not succeeded.

A parents’ group that challenged a temporary ban on youth athletics dropped its federal suit this week after practices resumed as planned.

— Matt Sepic | MPR News

COVID-19 vaccination begins in state prisons, offering ‘glimmer of hope’

Some people in Minnesota prisons with underlying health conditions are receiving a COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Nearly 4,000 people incarcerated in Minnesota state prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus. Nine have died. Some facilities, including ones in Faribault, Minn., and Stillwater, Minn., have seen large outbreaks.

In a memo to department staff late last month, Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said the rollout of the first vaccines offers "a glimmer of hope for a day without COVID-19."

Schnell said his department is following the priority order for vaccines set by the Minnesota Department of Health. Officials expect to vaccinate 121 incarcerated people by the end of the week.

Health care workers at state corrections facilities were among the first to be vaccinated. This week, vulnerable people incarcerated in specialized units at Faribault, Oak Park Heights and Shakopee are receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

— Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

Man charged after allegedly pointing gun at manager at a Maplewood gym over mask dispute

A man was charged Monday with threatening a fitness club employee over the wearing of masks.

Ramsey County prosecutors say Michael Florhaug confronted the manager of an LA Fitness in Maplewood, Minn., last Thursday.

According to the criminal complaint, the 65-year-old Maplewood man said not enough people were wearing masks. A man working out saw Florhaug point a handgun at the manager before the manager tackled Florhaug and managed to disarm him when his back was turned, prosecutors said.

Florhaug said he just flashed the gun.

— Nancy Lebens | MPR News

Top headlines

Legislature begins session facing pandemic, budget shortfall: Minnesota’s divided Legislature returned to action Tuesday for the start of a budget-writing session that is supposed to conclude in mid-May. As in last year’s special legislative sessions, COVID-19 is a central issue.

For one family, pandemic has forced tough conversations — and lessons in unconditional love: The Hochstetler family is spread across four states, which has made it hard to stay close during the pandemic. This year has forced some uniquely 2020 conversations, laden with both tension and love, on the sprawling family.

For new mom, pandemic has brought both joy and deep sadness: For Jorie Bernhardt, 2020 was a year of incredible joy and deep disappointment, isolation and connections in unexpected places.

Faced with twin COVID diagnoses, in-home care provider and her centenarian client moved in together: When a personal care assistant and her 101-year-old client both came down with COVID-19, the two women faced a choice: Ride out the virus alone or survive it together.

Minnesota health official says vaccine rollout hasn't been as bad as it seems: Kris Ehresmann of the Minnesota Department of Health says the holidays were a big reason that not as many people were vaccinated as had been planned.

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.