Jan. 12 update on COVID-19 in MN: Feds urge expanded vaccination; officials ask where's the vaccine

A man wearing PPE uses a needle to inject a women with a vaccine.
Pharmacist Ross Narloch administers an initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to Shirley Bethke, a resident at the Gardens of Episcopal Homes in St. Paul. Residents and employees at the long-term care facility began getting their first doses of the vaccine on Dec. 30, 2020.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Updated 3:43 p.m.

Minnesota officials reacted with caution Tuesday to the federal government’s call for states to expand the pool of people who should get priority for COVID-19 vaccinations, saying the feds weren’t yet backing up those calls with more vaccine deliveries.

Trump administration officials Tuesday urged states to immediately expand eligibility to people 65 and older as well as people most vulnerable to the disease.

NPR reported the administration also plans to start distributing vaccine based on a state’s over-65 population and its pace of vaccination. Currently, doses are allocated based on a state’s total adult population.

About 430,000 doses have been shipped to Minnesota so far to health providers and the federal program for long-term care facility vaccinations, according to the state’s new COVID-19 vaccination dashboard website; more than 140,000 Minnesotans have received at least one dose so far.

State officials said they were still learning about the federal government’s new guidance.

While Minnesota welcomes more vaccine becoming available more quickly to more people, “a promise to deliver isn’t delivering,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters.

The changing federal recommendations could potentially add “a couple million people who will expect to be vaccinated” in Minnesota, she said. “If we’re only getting 60,000 doses a week, that is going to be a real problem.”

No additional doses have been shipped or arrived, she added.

“We are ready to receive more vaccine if the feds actually follow through on their promise,” Ehresmann said. Right now, “there are no additional doses for use. There are not doses to put into arms to go along with that.”

Later Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz’s office said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had agreed to the requests of Minnesota and eight other states to release “millions of doses” that had been held back for distribution. The exact amount of supply that would go to Minnesota, though, wasn’t detailed.

13 more deaths; moderate case growth

The vaccine questions came hours after the latest Minnesota Health Department data continued to show relatively stable, moderate growth in new COVID-19 cases and deaths. Minnesota officials, though, believe another surge is likely in the coming weeks following the year-end holidays.

The Health Department reported 1,335 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease, along with 13 more deaths.

Nearly 700 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, with 135 needing intensive care. Those counts have dropped by more than half over the past four weeks. The seven-day trend of new hospital admissions is down to levels not seen since late October.

Even as they applaud the recent positive trends, health officials have been signaling that another upswing is expected. Tuesday’s data showed Minnesota’s count of active, confirmed cases ticking upward, though still far lower than last month.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Gov. Tim Walz said in mid-December his COVID-19 watchers were worried about a February spike. On Monday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm braced Minnesotans to see daily death and case counts trending higher 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,” Malcolm told reporters.

Overall, Minnesota’s COVID-19 path remains hard to chart because of the reporting from those year-end holidays.

The cases reported Tuesday put Minnesota at 438,867 in the pandemic. Of those, about 95 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,724. Among those who’ve died, about 64 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

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 83,500 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

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 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.

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 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

Top headlines

As Minn. rolls through first round of vaccinations, some providers worry about being left out: Minnesota is inching toward the last phase of its initial COVID-19 vaccinations. But providers, like residential substance abuse treatment centers and mental health providers, say they’re still in the dark about when and where their staff will get the vaccine.

Minnesotans with disabilities wonder when they'll get COVID-19 vaccine: As a group, people with disabilities often disproportionately suffer from the effects of the pandemic.

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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