Jan. 10 update on COVID-19 in MN: New virus variant confirmed in the state

A sign for COVID-19 testing on a snowy sidewalk.
A person walks into a COVID-19 saliva testing site at the former Thomas Edison Elementary School in Moorhead, Minn., on Dec. 29.
Matt Mikus | MPR News 2020

Minnesota health officials reported another 44 COVID-19 deaths and more than 2,100 additional cases on Sunday, as the state now also has its first confirmed cases of a new, more-contagious coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

The state Health Department announced Saturday night that it had sampled recent COVID-19 cases and found five cases of the variant in the Twin Cities metro area — though they say it’s likely more widespread in the state.

“The fact that the variant strain is thought to be more contagious, but not more virulent, than the viral strains currently in wide circulation in Minnesota reinforces the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing outside your home and quarantining if you’ve been exposed to a positive case,” state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said in a news release.

New COVID-19 cases in Minnesota by sample date
New COVID-19 cases in Minnesota by sample date
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

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 same safety measures can help slow its spread.

The Health Department is continuing to watch for signs of cases increasing in the wake of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends. There have been some signs of daily case counts ticking upward in the past week, though new hospital admissions are trending downward.

Sunday’s data also showed 64 new COVID hospitalizations — the lowest one-day increase in more than two months.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 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)

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

Meanwhile, 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.

Officials have said a lack of staff has led to bottlenecks in getting the shots to residents of long-term care facilities.

Preliminary findings show the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective against the new coronavirus variant.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day
Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Restrictions to ease this week

Last week Gov. Tim Walz announced a new executive order, allowing bars and restaurants to offer indoor dining again with limits starting Monday. Movie theaters, museums and other entertainment venues can also reopen after being closed since mid-November.

Walz framed the moves as cautious adjustments but made clear he won’t allow new virus spread to snowball. He also urged Minnesotans to continue social distancing and wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.

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.

New Minnesota COVID-19 cases by age, adjusted for population
New Minnesota COVID-19 cases by age, adjusted for population
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

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.

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
New COVID-19 cases per capita by race
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

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

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 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

Minneapolis elementary schools to resume in-person learning next month

Minneapolis Public Schools plan to start bringing their youngest learners back to the classroom next month, the district announced Friday.

Superintendent Ed Graff said in a note to families that he wants to resume in-person learning for pre-kindergarten through second grade on Feb. 8, and third through fifth grade two weeks later. High school students would remain in distance learning.

Most students in the state's third-largest district have been learning remotely since COVID-19 first shuttered schools in March. Families still have the option to remain in distance learning.

District officials say they're following the latest guidelines from the state that prioritize in-person learning for the youngest students. Gov. Tim Walz has given Minnesota districts the option to reopen elementary schools in a phased manner starting Jan. 18 — with additional safety measures like face shields for teachers, frequent COVID-19 testing and cleaning.

Other Minnesota school districts have begun announcing their plans to bring students back in late January and throughout the spring.

— Riham Feshir | MPR News

Top headlines

Mask rules differ on each end of Minnesota’s Capitol: The Democratic-led House approved a rule this week requiring masks be worn by at the Capitol or around other people while conducting legislative business. But the Republican-led Senate won’t follow suit. A mask mandate didn’t succeed Thursday after a majority decided on a 36-31 vote that an encouragement would suffice.

Minnesota's restaurants prepare for reopening, again: “When things reopened the first time, we certainly saw some glimpses of restaurants and other food establishments starting to get some traction again, so we’re hopeful we’ll see the same thing,” said Max Bialick, purchasing manager for American Fish and Seafood.

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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