Jan. 19 update on COVID-19 in MN: 6 deaths; new cases below 1K

A close up of a needle going into a glass vial.
A pharmacist prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in St. Paul in December.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Updated: 6:20 p.m.

Minnesota’s newest COVID-19 numbers show the state holding steady on a relatively positive path. Key metrics, including new case growth and hospitalizations, continue to improve.

Health officials on Tuesday reported 922 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease — along with 6 more deaths; 584 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, with 110 needing intensive care. Intensive care cases are down to their lowest point since Oct. 1.

Two months ago, the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state hovered around 50,000. Now, that count is 11,227, it’s lowest level since October.

While the trends look encouraging following an awful November and December — when new cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked — public health leaders still caution that another surge, originating from year-end holiday gatherings, is likely in the coming weeks.

The state is also struggling to gain traction in its efforts to get vaccination shots into arms.

About 12,000 doses — roughly 20 percent of Minnesota’s current weekly allocation — are being distributed to nine sites around the state, part of a pilot program intended to speed vaccinations to people 65 and older as well as to educators and child care workers.

However, the online booking process that launched at noon Tuesday quickly became overwhelmed, getting more than 1 million hits by early afternoon, including a spike of 10,000 in a single second.

Officials said later the state anticipates providing first-dose shots to all 12,000 people — 6,000 seniors and 6,000 educators and child care providers — who have appointments at pilot clinics this weekend.

“We absolutely expect this process to be much, much smoother in the future,” said Tarek Tomes, Minnesota’s chief information officer.

The first-day problems, however created serious frustration for many. Stories of frustrated seniors trying but failing to secure an appointment online or by phone bubbled across social media.

The situation drew quick condemnation from state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point. On Twitter, she called the vaccine pilot program “absolutely unacceptable! All it did was give seniors false hope. The website is down & phone lines overloaded.”

The COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday put Minnesota at 448,268 in the pandemic. Of those, about 96 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,945. Among those who’ve died, about 64 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

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 — more than 85,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 45,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with nearly 35,000 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.

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.

‘I plead for your patience’

As the overall pandemic numbers continue to improve, Minnesota officials face a new difficult challenge to get Minnesotans inoculated as quickly as possible. But there is far more demand for vaccine than supply.

Minnesota is only receiving roughly 60,000 doses a week. At this current pace of vaccine supply, it will take more than four months to get through the 1 million or so Minnesotans added to the priority list after dropping the age eligibility to 65 and older, according to Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

"I plead for your patience," Gov. Tim Walz said as he and state health officials rolled out the new nine-site pilot program Monday.

The governor expressed hope that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration would come through. Biden has said he wants to vaccinate 100 million Americans during the first 100 days he’s in office.

When the federal government starts to deliver more vaccine, “we will be ready. The end of this pandemic is closer today than it was yesterday,” Walz said.

Despite that optimism, officials are tempering that message with the reality that the vaccine supplies are not here yet in the needed volume.

“Vaccine demand is certain to outpace available doses at this time” so Minnesotans will need to be patient, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Tuesday. “We do not have enough vaccine for everyone who wants one, but we’re working hard to build a community vaccination system” to respond once the federal government provides more supply.

As of Friday, Minnesota has administered first doses to 194,462 people across the state, and 38,025 have received their second dose, according to the state's dashboard.

That’s from about 517,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine that have been shipped to Minnesota so far, including the federal program for long-term care facility vaccinations.

Latest developments

AG Ellison defends his role in enforcing COVID restrictions

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Tuesday testified in a House committee about the various functions of his office. He was asked about court cases brought against some restaurants and fitness centers that opened in defiance of Gov. Tim Walz executive orders.

Ellison said his office has fielded questions or contacted 900 businesses since the pandemic began. Only 12 have required court intervention.

“It’s something we don’t like to do. And we tell them that. We would rather have voluntary compliance,” he said. “And thankfully, overwhelmingly Minnesota institutions have put their employees and their customers first and done the best they could even despite the difficult situation everyone’s in."

The attorney general said his office hasn’t lost a case yet related to the pandemic orders.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

MN Senate extends online marriage license option

Minnesota lawmakers are moving quickly to extend a virtual option for obtaining marriage licenses during the pandemic.

By a unanimous vote Tuesday, the state Senate agreed to allow for couples to get their licenses without at least one of them appearing in person at a government office. That clearance had expired last week. The new deadline would be May 31.

"I don't think we want a bunch of angry brides, mother of the brides, father in the brides coming in if their marriage application would get delayed and the ceremony would not be able to happen,” said state Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove.

Improving conditions and the availability of vaccines will allow for a winding down of exceptions like these by the end of spring, said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

A House vote and signature from Gov. Tim Walz are needed to allow for the extension.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Top headlines

It’s back to school — again — for many of Minnesota’s youngest students: Thousands of Minnesota elementary students will be on their way to school Tuesday morning — some of them seeing their classrooms in person for the first time ever. The resume of in-person instruction is again shifting the picture of what education looks like in the middle of a pandemic.

Efforts underway to counter vaccine fears in St. Cloud’s Somali American community: In St. Cloud’s Somali American community, there's deep distrust around vaccinations that predates the COVID-19 pandemic, and questions already are swirling. Some local health officials and community leaders worry that might prevent people from getting the vaccine.

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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