Feb. 24 update on COVID-19 in MN: Vaccination focus stays on people 65 and older

A nurse and a veteran sit at a desk.
Nurse Paula Anderson asks veteran Walter Ridlon of Little Falls a few questions before administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination shot last week at the VA Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

3 things to know:

  • Walz to lay out next steps in vaccination eligibility

  • Vaccination pace still wobbly

  • Officials: Kids, families should now get tested every 2 weeks

Updated: 6:18 p.m.

Minnesota will not expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines until at least 70 percent of residents age 65 and older get a first dose — a threshold officials expect to reach by the end of March, Gov. Tim Walz’s office said late Wednesday.

Walz is expected to detail those plans along with the next phases of shot eligibility in remarks set for early Thursday afternoon.

So far, more than 42 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older have received at least one shot. However, people in that age group are still struggling to make appointments to get vaccinated.

On Tuesday, AARP Minnesota called on Minnesota to streamline and improve the process, saying the current system has left many of their members “frustrated and confused” with some feeling “demoralized when their efforts to secure a vaccine come up empty.”

Vaccination pace scuffles

Wednesday’s numbers showed state vaccination efforts still struggling for traction following a mild upswing last week.

While vaccination counts rebounded a bit in the latest data, the trend line remains frustratingly flat.

The state Health Department reported nearly 17,000 new vaccinations. About 13.8 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of the Wednesday update, with about 6.7 percent completely vaccinated.

Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

Walz said on Tuesday that he was “very optimistic” that in the next couple of weeks, the state will be able to give residents a better sense of when they’ll be vaccinated based on age and health conditions.

A line chart.

Officials hope the arrival of some 45,000 weather-delayed shots on top of the state’s regular 100,000-dose allocation will soon jump-start the pace of vaccinations, although it hasn’t happened yet.

A bar graph.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, expressed hope on Wednesday that a new one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will be authorized for use soon.

Minnesota is currently ranked 17th among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Minnesota had been as low as 25th on that ranking.

Families with kids urged to test every 2 weeks

With kids increasingly returning to school buildings and sports, Minnesota public health officials are urging Minnesota families with children to get tested every two weeks for COVID-19 now until the end of the school year.

While it’s not a requirement, the effort will help protect progress the state’s making to limit the spread of the virus, Dan Huff, an assistant state health commissioner, told reporters Wednesday.

Families can use the state’s testing at home program, go to a community testing site or work with their own health provider, Huff said.

“We’re not asking schools or youth organizations to provide this testing,” he added. “This is a recommendation for all youth, in-person, returning to school, youth sports, extracurricular activities.”

Huff noted that the state’s teacher testing shows a very low level of COVID-19 in that population to date. Huff said some 72,000 educators have been tested with only a .35 percent positive test rate. Officials find a 5 percent rate as cause for concern.

Pandemic metrics still solid

Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show the state holding fairly steady.

Hospitalization rate are encouraging. There were 292 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals as of Tuesday. The number needing intensive care ticked up to 59, but hospitalizations overall remain relatively stable.

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

Known, active cases came in below 7,000. The overall trend remains steady at late September levels.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Nine newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,443. 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 has recorded 480,845 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 761 reported Wednesday. About 97 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

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 91,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 48,000 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 37,000 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.

Regionally, most parts of Minnesota are down significantly from the late November, early December spike as well as a January blip.

There has been an uptick in cases in northwestern Minnesota recently, although it’s unclear why.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

On Wednesday, Huff, the assistant health commissioner, expressed concern about the uptick seen in the northwest and west-central regions, saying it showed the state needed to remain vigilant against spread.

“The vaccines are coming and continue to increase, and that is fantastic news, but we’re not there yet,” he said, adding, that the state doesn’t have enough people vaccinated “to stop the next wave.”

Earlier this week, health officials cautioned that outbreaks are continuing in the state, noting 23 outbreaks tied to gyms reported last month, 39 linked to bars and restaurants and 85 linked to sports.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

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.

Distrust by communities of color “is the thing that has plagued us for some time,” Walz told reporters Tuesday at a briefing promoting vaccinations for people of color.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that it’s been a “real problem” not having data broken down by race and ethnicity but that the state may have data to share by next week.

‘Where we all want to go’

State health officials continue to remind Minnesotans that the pandemic is not over yet and that new virus strains circulating in the United States may be more contagious.

Overall, though, public health leaders are striking an optimistic tone. That was clear earlier this week when they were asked about the Minnesota Twins proposing to allow 10,000 fans at Target Field when the baseball season starts in early April.

Walz said on Tuesday that it’s “possible and probable” that Target Field could bring some fans back and alluded to the possibility of a 2021 Minnesota State Fair, which was canceled last year amid fears it would be a COVID-19 superspreader event.

Correction (March 5, 2021): An earlier version of this story described the total vaccinations as a percentage of Minnesota’s 16 and older population. The percentage includes the entire population.

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

COVID vaccine clinic opening at Mall of America

State officials on Wednesday said that educators, school staff and child care workers this week will start receiving vaccines at the Mall of America in Bloomington. The site is expected to serve more than 8,000 people in its first week.

Generally, the state says teachers and child care workers should still expect to get vaccinated through their district or employer. 

The state estimates that close that there are close to 230,000 educators and child care workers who qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine, and at least 35 percent of that group will have received a vaccine through a state distributor by the end of the month. 

Some districts, including Forest Lake, Northfield and St. Cloud, have already vaccinated most of their staff through partnerships with local clinics and public health offices.

— Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Top headlines

For older Minnesotans, whether they're vaccinated has a lot to do with where they live: In some rural Minnesota counties, older residents are more than twice as likely to have gotten at least a first dose of the vaccine than if they live in most parts of the Twin Cities metro area. But even in rural parts of the state, there are significant differences from county to county.

U.S. COVID-19 death toll reaches 500,000: The disease has killed at least 100,000 people in the past five weeks and was the leading cause of death in the country in January, ahead of heart disease, cancer and other ailments, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. President Joe Biden has ordered flags on all federal buildings lowered to half-staff for five days.

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