Updated: 3:20 p.m.
Despite some hopeful COVID-19 numbers to start 2021, Minnesota health officials continue to caution that the pandemic is not over.
The Health Department on Monday reported 980 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease, along with four additional deaths. Both of those daily figures came in at levels not seen since October.
Still, Minnesota’s COVID-19 path remains hard to chart because of the reporting from year-end holidays.
While Monday’s low death report was encouraging, “we’re not anticipating this signals a new trend necessarily,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters, noting that those daily counts have fallen before only to rise again.
“We do expect to see cases go back up in Minnesota following the year-end holidays, and potentially just as a result of the winter wearing on and more indoor time and more gatherings,” she added.
Malcolm’s department said 686 people remained in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Sunday, with 141 needing intensive care. The seven-day trend of new hospital admissions fell to its lowest level since late October.
The newest numbers come on the same day Minnesota bars and restaurants are allowed to offer indoor dining again with limits as state pandemic restrictions are scaled back.
The cases reported Monday put Minnesota at 437,552 in the pandemic. Of those, about 95 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,711. Among those who’ve died, about 64 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
State officials said that more than 147,000 Minnesotans have been vaccinated at this point. Minnesota’s been allocated nearly 400,000 doses, but Malcolm said that doesn’t mean all of the doses are in the state or available to those doing the vaccinations.
“Are we satisfied? No,” Malcolm said of the current pace of vaccinations. “We do expect these numbers to go up steadily from here. It was really only Friday of last week that we even started to get data from a week that didn't have a major holiday or a blizzard in it."
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 83,500 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 nearly 34,000 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
A relatively small bump in new cases is happening across the state.
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 late November, early December peaks, 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.
COVID variant surfaces
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.
Officials say that while it’s thought to be more easily spread from one person to another, it has not been found to cause more serious disease.
The real threat of the new strain is a possible dramatic jump in the number of sick people, Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Centers for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
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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