Feb. 28 update on COVID-19 in MN: Vaccinations reach new record high

A sheet of stickers with one missing.
COVID-19 vaccine stickers are handed out as vaccines are administered to veterans on Feb. 17 at the VA Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News file

3 things to know:

  • Record single-day increase in vaccinations

  • Walz: Shots for all Minnesotans by summer

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

Minnesota set a new record for COVID-19 vaccinations Sunday, with nearly 70,000 new doses reported. That beats the old record, set the day before, of around 56,000 doses.

The increase comes after many appointments were cancelled earlier this month due to supply disruptions caused by cold weather. Now those delayed doses are flooding into the state, and into Minnesotans’ arms.

More than 47,000 of the newly reported vaccinations were first doses given to people who had never been vaccinated before.

Averaged over the past week, Minnesota is averaging more than 34,000 vaccinations a day — the highest ever since vaccinations began in December.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 6,483 deaths (8 new)

  • 484,594 positive cases (813 new), 470,819 off isolation (97 percent)

  • 7.3 million tests, 3.5 million Minnesotans tested (about 61 percent of the population)

  • 16 percent of Minnesotans vaccinated with at least one dose

Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

Minnesota has now administered 1,338,841 COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The bump in vaccinations came after Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday said every Minnesotan should be able to get a shot by the summer. At the current pace of around 34,000 doses per day, 80 percent of Minnesotans would be able to get a shot by August. But there’s reason to believe the vaccination rate might continue to increase, including the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose, and which will begin arriving in states in the next week.

A line chart.

Minnesota currently ranks 17th among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A bar graph.

Uptick in cases but metrics relatively stable

Vaccination concerns aside, Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show the state holding fairly steady, although there has been a minor uptick in new and active cases.

Hospitalization rates remain encouraging and remain at levels last seen before the late-fall surge in cases. There were 263 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals as of Thursday; 60 patients needed intensive care.

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations
Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Eight newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,483. 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 484,594 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 813 reported Sunday. 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 — more than 91,000 since the pandemic began, including 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 young people are less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth 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 and early December spike, as well as a smaller January uptick.

There was a modest increase in cases in northwestern Minnesota recently, although it’s unclear why.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Earlier this week, Dan Huff, an assistant state 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.”

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 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 said 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 in the coming week.

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, Huff told reporters Wednesday.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

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.

Walz on Thursday said 88 percent of the state’s public school districts and charter schools are offering some in-person learning now.

‘We can’t do it fast enough’

Walz laid out plans Thursday to get COVID-19 shots into the arms of every Minnesotan who wants one by the summer while keeping the state’s short-term focus on residents 65 and older. He even suggested the Minnesota State Fair was possible this year.

"The finish line's there. Let's finish this thing,” Walz said in remarks that were mostly upbeat about the state’s current circumstances on the one-year anniversary of the first Minnesotan showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Walz said the state wouldn’t 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.

Once that threshold has been met, Minnesota will open vaccinations to others based on underlying health conditions and workplace exposure risk, including some 45,000 employees working at Minnesota food processing plants.

The governor and other officials indicated that their timeline was conservative and expressed hope that it would move faster as more supplies — including the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine now under federal review — become available.

"We can't do it fast enough. Every single governor in this country is hearing the same things,” Walz said of vaccinations. “It's simply a supply and demand issue, folks There's not enough vaccines still at this point in time.”

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.

Developments from around the state

New U of Minn. center to research anti-racism in public health

A new center at the University of Minnesota will focus on anti-racism research in public health.

The center’s launch was spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement that followed the police killing of George Floyd. Founding director Rachel Hardeman said she hopes the center will strengthen public health education when it comes to racial disparities.

As a Black woman with deep roots in Minnesota, Hardeman said she was passionate about creating a vision that would engage communities in the research and come up with solutions.

"Certainly it's not the norm to go into community and say ‘you tell me what we should be asking, you tell me what needs to be done, what do you need to feel safe?’” Hardeman said, “and so much of the knowledge and so much of the solutions are out there but we just haven't asked the right people."

The university received a $5 million donation from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota to launch the center.

— Riham Feshir | MPR News

Top headlines

Front-line food plant workers up next for COVID-19 vaccine: Workers at Minnesota’s food processing plants — hit hard by coronavirus early in the pandemic — will be among those next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Biden marks 50M vaccine doses in first 5 weeks in office: On Thursday, President Joe Biden marked the administration of the 50 millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine since his swearing-in. The moment came days after the nation reached the devastating milestone of 500,000 coronavirus deaths and ahead of a meeting with the nation's governors on plans to speed the distribution even further.

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