Jan. 15 update on COVID-19 in MN: Walz blasts feds for 'lying' about vaccine supply

A woman in PPE stands at a table with medical equipment.
Nurse Lynette Van London prepares to administer the first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17, 2020, at the St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News 2020

Updated 4:30 p.m

Minnesota officials excited about expanding the pool of people eligible to get a COVID-19 shot got a jolt Friday after learning the federal government doesn’t have the supplies it promised to do the job.

State health leaders on Thursday had given the OK to hospitals and other health care providers to vaccinate a wider group of Minnesotans, including people age 65 and older and those most susceptible to the disease after the Trump administration urged states to immediately expand eligibility.

The feds were believed to have doses stockpiled and ready for release to the states. But the bottom fell out of all those plans Friday. The cavalry is not on the way.

The Washington Post reported the federal government had already exhausted its vaccine reserves, making it extremely unlikely that Minnesota or any other state will see its allocation jump anytime soon.

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That’s left Minnesota officials angry, and reevaluating their own plans.

"I have been frustrated at times beyond belief, but this one is so far beyond the pale to be almost unimaginable … they were lying,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Friday.

“Where did they go?” Walz asked of the federal doses. “Who's going to be prosecuted for this? What are the states to do when they've been lied to and made all their plans around this?”

The governor said he’s looked into whether Minnesota could buy doses of vaccine directly from the manufacturers rather than wait for federal authorities but added that it would be “super expensive to do it” and it’s not clear that governors even have that power.

About 500,000 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 COVID-19 vaccination dashboard website; more than 160,000 Minnesotans have received at least one dose so far.

Hospitalizations recede, new cases moderate

Anger over the feds around vaccines trumped an otherwise encouraging day in the effort to control COVID-19’s spread.

The latest state Health Department data shows Minnesota remaining on a relatively positive trend line on a host of key COVID-19 metrics, including new cases and hospitalizations.

Health officials on Friday reported 1,640 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease — along with 33 more deaths; 612 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, with 125 needing intensive care.

Hospitalizations 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.

Hospital admissions are now lower than they were on Nov. 1, but still above their Oct. 1 level.

New COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota

While the improving trends look good following an awful November and December — when new cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked — public health leaders still don’t believe the state is in the clear. They believe another surge, originating from year-end holiday gatherings, is likely in the coming weeks.

Walz said has said his COVID-19 experts remain worried about a February spike. On Monday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm braced Minnesotans to see daily death and case counts trending higher again.

Active, confirmed case counts are trending up slightly compared to early January.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

“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.

The cases reported Friday put Minnesota at 443,562 in the pandemic. Of those, about 95 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,850. 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

Cases spread across age groups, regions

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — nearly 85,000 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

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.

A relatively small bump in new cases has been 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.

‘Still in a high-risk situation’

Although the overall conditions have improved significantly in Minnesota over the past two weeks, state public health leaders continue to implore people to wear masks in indoor public gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

The state last week said it has confirmed five cases of the new, more-contagious coronavirus variant in the Twin Cities metro area. The variant was first detected in the United Kingdom and has since been confirmed in several other U.S. states. It has not been found to cause more-serious cases of COVID-19.

“While our trends have stabilized, we are still in a high-risk situation, and this variant is a major unknown as to what it will do here,” Malcolm said Thursday.

Developments around the state

Inflammatory illness tied to COVID ID’d in 56 MN kids

A worrisome inflammatory condition believed to be related to COVID-19 has surfaced in 56 Minnesota children since the pandemic began, state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said Thursday.

While the condition, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, has been deadly in New York, the Minnesota children affected have all survived, although some have required intensive care.

Minnesota is seeing more cases now than last fall, Lynfield told reporters.

While the count is small — 56 out of more than 72,000 COVID-19 cases confirmed in children ages 19 and younger — the inflammatory condition has disproportionately hit children of color harder. Sixty percent of the Minnesota cases identified were Black or Latino children, Lynfield said.

— MPR News Staff

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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.