Feb. 16 update on COVID-19 in MN: Pandemic picture solid; uptick in vaccination trend

A nurse administers a vaccination shot to a woman sitting.
Sister Katherine Kraft of the Order of St. Benedict holds herself steady as nurse Dawn Conklin administers the COVID-19 vaccination Feb. 5.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

3 things to know:

  • Hospital admissions, new cases and active caseloads look good

  • Vaccinations still looking for consistent upswing

  • About 36 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older with at least one dose

Updated: 2:34 p.m.

Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers continue to show pandemic conditions improving, although the vaccination pace is still struggling to rebound.

Key trend lines around the disease remain angled in the right direction. The Health Department on Tuesday reported 456 newly confirmed or probable cases while known, active cases slipped below 7,000. Both figures fell to their lowest levels since late September.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The seven-day hospital admissions trend for people with COVID-19 has also receded to late September levels. There were 315 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals as of Monday, with 57 needing intensive care. ICU cases are at their lowest point since the spring.

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations

The overall vaccination pace is still trying to regain traction after falling and then flattening following a late January surge. While the overall trend line ticked up, the state on Tuesday reported about 12,400 new vaccinations — significantly below daily counts over the past week.

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Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

About 12.3 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Sunday, with about 4.3 percent completely vaccinated. About 36 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older have received at least one shot.

Officials have been emphasizing over the past weeks that the relatively low flow of vaccine supplies from the federal government is the main problem holding back the pace of vaccinations. There’s data to back that up.

As of Tuesday, though, the state was ranked 23rd among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the current rate, it would take until September to vaccinate 80 percent of the state’s adults.

A line chart.

Hoping to speed the effort, the Health Department has opened mass vaccination sites in the Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth and posted information on its online vaccine finder.

Tuesday did mark the first time the state hit its goal of administering 90 percent of available vaccines within three days of reaching providers.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said the poor weather across the country this week will delay vaccine shipments to Minnesota. Providers are rescheduling appointments and it could affect the state’s short-term progress on vaccination, she added.

Two reported deaths on Tuesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,380. Among those who’ve died, about 63 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

The state’s recorded 474,621 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic. 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.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

State health officials continue to monitor new virus strains circulating in the United States, which may be more contagious. Officials have warned that they could lead to an increase in cases.

Ehresmann reaffirmed those concerns on Tuesday, noting that Minnesota’s now confirmed 40 cases of the U.K. strain here. “We want to make sure we’re not giving a foothold to these variants.”

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 90,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 47,000 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 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.

Something worth watching: There’s been an uptick in cases in northwestern Minnesota recently, though it’s unclear why just yet. All other regions of the state have been seeing cases decline.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

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 continue to fall from their late November, early December peaks, the data shows Latino people continue to be hit hard.

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.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Thursday also acknowledged the need to ensure that vaccination opportunities be spread equitably.

Malcolm said the state will release data soon regarding vaccinations, race and ethnicity. Officials say they’re trying to improve the quality of data. Per state law, it's been shared voluntarily, and so may be inconsistent.

‘Good position’ to return kids to school

On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance for schools on how to judge whether and when to bring students back into school buildings.

The latest CDC guidance says schools can reopen safely provided they are adopting safety precautions ranging from masking to ventilation. It also cautions that in areas where the viral transmission is high, middle and high schools be in full distance learning unless mitigation measures are in place.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday is expected to announce his plans for returning middle and high school students back to school based on the CDC’s latest view.

Malcolm on Tuesday said state health and education officials are reviewing the CDC “road map” now.

“We have clearly made important progress against COVID-19,” Malcolm told reporters on Tuesday, highlighting the effort to vaccinate teachers. It’s put the state “in a good position to get our kids back to school.”

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.

Latest developments

Canada tightens COVID border curbs

Canada is stepping up border restrictions in the face of the coronavirus and is now requiring people driving into the country to present a negative COVID-19 test.

Canada closed its borders to nonessential travel last March, and has repeatedly extended the restrictions. As of this week, Canadian authorities are adding new restrictions: land entry requires travelers to show a negative COVID-19 PCR molecular test less than 72 hours old — or a positive test at least two weeks old and taken with in the last 90 days.

Air travelers will require the same documentation starting next week. Starting next week, with some exceptions, all travelers will have to take a COVID-19 test on arrival and file a plan for a mandatory two-week quarantine with Canadian authorities, although testing won't be available at any of the crossings from Minnesota.

The CBC reports that the new restrictions still do not apply to commercial truckers driving in from the U.S., at least for now.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

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