3 things to know:
Vaccination pace rebounds but still below last week
16 U.K. strain, 2 Brazilian strain cases confirmed in Minnesota
Officials caution against holding big Super Bowl parties on Sunday
Updated: 3:40 p.m.
Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 data continues to show the state generally on the right track, with key metrics staying relatively steady. After an early-week stumble, vaccination counts are better but still not matching levels from last week.
Thursday’s Health Department report showed the disease trends angling in the right direction despite an uptick in new case counts and active caseloads. Known, active cases stand at 8,542, similar to early October levels and still down significantly from around 50,000 in late November.
Counts also continue to look good on hospitalizations — 369 Minnesotans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 82 needing intensive care. ICU cases remain at levels not seen since September.
The generally hopeful outlook is tempered now by concerns over new virus strains arriving in the United States. All three known new COVID-19 variants have now been confirmed in the U.S., including two cases of the Brazilian strain and 16 of the U.K. variant in Minnesota.
Both Brazilian variant cases were from the same household, state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield told reporters. "It is not a surprise that we detected another case, but it underscores the need for continued vigilance,” she said.
State officials are also cautioning against big Super Bowl gatherings this Sunday.
“This is probably not the year to have a Super Bowl party, and fortunately we don’t have to feel bad because the Vikings aren’t in the Super Bowl,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.
“With the pandemic ongoing, we would still be asking people to reconsider gatherings” and wearing masks and social distancing if people do gather, she added.
Ehresmann also urged people to avoid travel and keep kids home from school if they aren’t feeling well, even it seems mild.
“It’s sometimes tempting to just write it off as the sniffles,” she said. “During a pandemic, you need to play it safe. If we want to have kids in school … and staying healthy, every family needs to do their part.”
Seventeen newly reported deaths Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,251. 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 state’s recorded 465,176 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 1,410 reported Thursday. About 97 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
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 88,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 47,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 36,000 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 unknowingly to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations.
People can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
Caseloads are trending down across all regions of the state following a late December, early January blip.
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 continue to fall 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.
‘Everyone is going to have to be patient’ on vaccines
While vaccination counts appear to be rebounding, they remain below last week’s surge, suggesting that last week’s vigorous pace may have been the exception.
More than 475,000 Minnesotans received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, about 8.6 percent of the state’s population. Only about 2.3 percent had completed a full vaccine series.
Concerns continue to simmer over the speed of the effort — and the confusion it’s generated as people struggle to find out when and where they can get a shot.
Minnesota is still on a pace to be able to vaccinate 80 percent of adults by September.
On Tuesday, though, state officials said it could take up to four months to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older if the feds don’t deliver more vaccine faster; about 20 percent of that population has received at least their first dose.
There are still some 80,000 health care workers in the state who haven’t had a chance to be vaccinated yet as the state pushed ahead to prioritize people age 65 and older, officials said.
State public health leaders have been pleading for patience over the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We are getting Minnesotans vaccinated safely and quickly as supplies come to us,” Ehresmann told reporters Tuesday. But “we just don’t have enough vaccine and everyone is going to have to be patient.”
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.
High School League sets tentative winter state tournament dates
The Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors on Thursday approved a tentative plan for winter state tournaments, with many of those events being held several weeks later than usual to end the pandemic-affected season.
Among the changes, state quarterfinals for high school hockey and basketball will take place in the last week of March.
Boys and girls hockey semifinals and championship games will be held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on April 1-3. Boys and girls basketball semifinals and title games will be played at Target Center in Minneapolis April 6-10.
Among other winter sports and activities:
State alpine and Nordic skiing meets are now set for March 10 and 12 at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
Ddance state competitions are March 12-13 at Edina High School.
Boys swimming and diving state meet is March 18-20 and the University of Minnesota.
Wrestling state tournament is March 25-27 at a site to be determined.
Gymnastics state meet is March 26-27 at Champlin Park High School.
The tournament dates are subject to change. You can find more information here.
— MPR News staff
Vaccination weekend set for Minneapolis Convention Center
The state of Minnesota is launching a new, large-scale vaccination site at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The state expects to vaccinate 9,500 people, including people 65 and older, teachers and child care providers, starting Thursday and through the weekend. Additional sites are opening in Duluth and southern Minnesota in coming days, and will remain open indefinitely.
The sites will be operated by Vault Health, which runs the state's saliva testing program.
Dan Feehan, a former Minnesota congressional candidate, is now leading Vault's national vaccine program, including in Minnesota.
"This is incredibly exciting. People are waiting and people are looking for an opportunity like this: Not just to get their vaccination, but to get it easily, efficiently and at a high enough throughput so we can get to a lot more people,” he said.
Vault Health randomly drew names for appointments from a list of people who preregistered for slots during the initial rollout of the vaccine pilot program in January, Feehan said.
— Catharine Richert | MPR News
Mpls. skyway business owners worried about slow return when COVID relents: By one estimate, 3 out of 5 skyway-level businesses have closed, at least temporarily. Other restaurant and shop owners are hanging on in the hopes that COVID-19 vaccines will spark a rebound.
Wild 4th NHL team shut down for COVID-19 reasons: The Wild now have six players on the league’s COVID-19 list and had their next four games postponed. Colorado, which most recently played Minnesota, had one player added.
COVID-19 variants are bad news — the good news is, we know what works: Dr. Jon Hallberg says the public would be right to worry — these variants spread faster, which could overwhelm the health care system. Still, he said there is good news: Existing vaccines are still effective against them, though some are a little less so, and we already know how to prevent the spread. Masking up, washing our hands, social distancing and limiting trips outside the home still work.
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