Updated: 5:31 p.m.
Minnesota’s COVID-19 picture continues to brighten as the state closes out January, with new and active caseloads, hospitalizations and deaths all trending in the right direction. New numbers also show the state’s first sustained and significant rise in the pace of vaccinations.
The Health Department on Tuesday reported 727 confirmed or probable cases of the disease — along with eight more deaths. That new daily case count was the lowest since Sept. 29, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
“That reflects how far we came — up and down — since the end of September,” she said.
There are now 9,788 active, known COVID-19 cases — the first time since mid-October that count is below 10,000. In late November, those cases hovered around 50,000. Overall, conditions have improved significantly from late November and early December.
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Tuesday’s data put Minnesota at 456,490 cases in the pandemic. Of those, about 97 percent of people have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,106. Among those who’ve died, about 63 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped to 496, with 100 needing intensive care, as of Monday. It’s the first time in more than three months that the number of current hospitalizations was below 500.
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 87,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 46,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 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.
Caseloads continue to trend down across all regions of the state following a late December, early January blip.
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.
Vaccination frustration mounts; numbers improve
State leaders have been challenged early-on to get more shots into more arms, and they’ve taken criticism that the process has been too slow.
But the latest data shows that the upswing in vaccinations may finally be underway.
Gov. Tim Walz on Monday rolled out plans to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations to 15,000 educators in the Twin Cities metro area this week, ease the online shot signup hassles for those 65 and older and push providers to get shots into arms more quickly.
More than 284,000 Minnesotans received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Sunday, just over 5 percent of the population.
Hoping to speed the process, Minnesota officials said the state will set a goal for vaccine providers to get 90 percent of their vaccine doses into arms within three days of receiving them, and all doses within one week.
Providers not meeting those goals could see changes to their vaccine allocations, the governor’s office said, noting that national chain pharmacies are lagging behind other vaccine providers in getting shots to Minnesotans.
The Health Department also revamped an online shot signup process that crashed last week as people 65 and older rushed to make appointments for a limited supply of vaccine.
The overhauled effort kicked off Tuesday morning, giving older Minnesotans a 24-hour window to register for a chance to get a shot appointment. People in that registration pool will be randomly selected to receive a shot, rather than the earlier system of first come, first served.
Demand continues to far outpace supply. Officials on Tuesday afternoon said that about 180,000 people have registered for a chance to get one of the roughly 8,000 doses earmarked this week for those 65 and older. Those selected are expected to be notified Wednesday morning.
The bulk of Minnesotans 65 and older will likely get their vaccinations eventually through their local clinics or pharmacies, rather than through the current, limited pilot project, Malcolm said Tuesday.
Some 1,400 pharmacies, clinics and other providers around the state have signed up to vaccinate Minnesotans as more vaccine becomes available. That's the way most Minnesotans will receive their doses, "but there's not much supply today," she added.
As they receive doses, clinics will be reaching out to their clients, so "if you haven't heard from you clinic that they have a supply ... it's not likely that they have vaccine, so best not to flood them with calls but to wait for information," Malcolm said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Biden administration confirmed it’s working to buy an additional 200 million doses of vaccines with the goal of having enough vaccine supply for most of the United States population by the end of the summer.
Minnesota is expected to receive nearly 11,000 additional doses each week under the new allocation, the Walz administration said.
MN confirms first COVID-19 variant from Brazil
Minnesota health officials Monday said they’d confirmed a version of the COVID-19 virus known as the Brazil P.1 variant in a specimen from a Twin Cities area resident who traveled recently to Brazil.
It’s the first of the Brazil P.1 variant in the United States, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement.
“While this variant is thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, it is not yet known whether the variant causes more severe illness,” the department added.
— MPR News Staff
MN lawmakers press new COVID relief for business
Minnesota lawmakers are speeding through a bill to prevent businesses from facing additional costs due to COVID-19-related layoffs.
The state Senate unanimously passed a measure Monday that would exclude 2020 from the ratings that determine how much in tax businesses pay into Minnesota’s unemployment fund. The House could vote in the coming days to send the bill to Gov. Tim Walz.
Significant layoffs can hurt a company’s rating and drive up its rates. Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said the pandemic and state restrictions left some businesses with no other option. “What we want to make sure is that our employers aren’t penalized for the impacts of the COVID and the executive orders.”
Minnesota has paid out billions of dollars in unemployment aid to hundreds of thousands of sidelined workers. The state is presently borrowing money from the federal government to meet its unemployment benefits costs, but there's a chance some of that could be forgiven.
The proposed change to the calculations would also affect newer businesses by giving them an industry average that spares them from any coronavirus-related impact.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News
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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.