March 6 update on COVID-19 in MN: A year after 1st case, hope percolates

A man holding paper talks to another man.
Volunteer and retired physician Kirk Dornfeld (left) talks with Ronald McClellan (right) after McClellan received his second COVID-19 vaccine shot Feb. 25 at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Updated: 11:25 a.m.

3 things to know:

  • U.K. variant outbreak tied to youth sports ‘rapidly growing’ in Carver County

  • Vaccinations accelerating

  • Hospitalizations, active cases stay modest despite uptick in deaths

Minnesota confirmed its first COVID-19 case exactly one year ago. The disease opened the floodgates on some of the hardest months in state history, upending nearly every part of daily life across the state.

But after more than 6,500 deaths and nearly 500,000 confirmed cases, Gov. Tim Walz says Minnesota may be positioned to “break the back” of the pandemic in the next four weeks. Vaccinations and vigilance are key, he told reporters Friday. On Saturday, the state passed the milestone of 1 million residents having received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

But the call for vigilance was heightened Friday night, as state and local health officials reported a “rapidly growing” outbreak of the so-called U.K. COVID-19 variant in Carver County, tied to youth sports. Read more about that here.

And statewide, there has been a slight uptick in newly confirmed COVID cases and deaths in recent days.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 6,546 deaths (12 new)

  • 489,116 positive cases (975 new); 97 percent off isolation

  • 18.3 percent of Minnesotans with at least 1 dose

  • 61.7 percent 65 and older with at least 1 dose

Despite the concern about the Carver County cases, March continues to offer signs the worst is over. Saturday’s update from state health officials showed the pace of COVID vaccinations continues to increase in Minnesota. Averaged over the past week, the state is administering more than 41,000 vaccine doses a day — the highest that number has been since vaccinations started in December.

The Health Department on Saturday reported 543,696 people — about 9.8 percent of the state’s population — are completely vaccinated now. More than 1 million Minnesotans — about 18.3 percent — had received at least one dose.

Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

‘Faster than we thought’

State public health leaders have said for weeks that they’d be ready to ramp up when they got more supply. With the federal government now promising enough vaccine to inoculate every adult American by the end of May — two months earlier than expected — the table seems set.

The state is expected to receive 127,169 doses next week.

Graph projecting when most Minnesotans will get vaccinated
Projections by MPR News data reporter David Montgomery.

Nearly 62 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older have received at least one shot currently, according to Health Department calculations. That’s important since officials have said the state will expand vaccination eligibility when 70 percent of that population gets a first dose.

Officials expected to meet that goal by the end of March. On the current trajectory, it could happen March 13, which would accelerate the timeline for when any Minnesotan can get a shot

"It's going to be your turn faster than we thought,” Walz said in remarks Friday during a vaccination event at the Minnesota Vikings facility in Eagan.

A line chart.

Officials say the arrival of Johnson & Johnson doses, which require only one shot, are a game changer. More than 45,000 doses of the newly approved vaccine were expected to be distributed in Minnesota this week and next.

Conditions are improving quickly enough that June weddings and a Minnesota State Fair this year were within reach, a buoyant Walz said Wednesday.

A bar graph.

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.

Pandemic metrics hold steady

As the pace of vaccinations gains speed, Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show disease conditions are fairly stable.

Hospitalization rates remain at levels last seen before the late-fall surge in cases. There were 224 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota as of Thursday; 57 needed intensive care.

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

Known, active cases came in at 7,400 as of Saturday, continuing a trend that stayed fairly stable through February and remains down dramatically from late November and early December, when active cases hovered around 50,000.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Twelve newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,546. Among those who’ve died, about 62 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

Death counts have ticked up in recent days but it’s unclear if it’s a blip or evidence of something more concerning. The seven-day average death rate is back in double digits, about 10 a day.

The state has recorded 489,116 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 975 reported Friday. 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

Despite recent positive trends in key metrics, officials remain concerned about COVID-19 strains with the potential to spread. Minnesota has 165 confirmed cases of the so-called U.K. variant and two cases of the Brazil variant.

State health officials continue to implore Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease. On Friday, with spring break approaching for students, they also urged people to put off non-essential travel.

“Even with the positive momentum we see on vaccines, so many Minnesotans are still vulnerable,” said Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist. The state, she cautioned, could still see a spike in coming months if people let down their guard.

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 92,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 48,000 among those 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 38,000 total cases among those ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

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.

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.

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 track well below 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.

Walz has acknowledged that distrust by communities of color has been a problem during the pandemic. Officials on Friday offered up some data on vaccinations broken down by race and ethnicity.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state was committed to doing more to expand vaccine access to people of color, including getting more doses to community pharmacies, partnering with local groups and deploying mobile vaccination clinics.

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 variant outbreak in Carver Co. linked to youth sports

Minnesota health officials on Friday warned of a “rapidly growing outbreak” of the U.K. COVID-19 strain tied to youth sports in Carver County. They are recommending a two-week suspension of youth sports in the county amid the outbreak.

Since late January, the Health Department says there've been at least 68 cases of COVID-19 cases linked to school and club sports in the metro-area county. Among those cases, 24 have been confirmed as the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant.

Epidemiologists have also seen an uptick of the U.K. variant cases in Carver County gyms and fitness centers — with many of those linked to the youth sports cases.

Health officials say youth sports in the county should be paused starting Monday. They also recommend weekly testing of athletes and coaches elsewhere in the state, strict masking and no gatherings before or after games.

B.1.1.7. is more transmissible than other coronavirus variants. While researchers don't believe it's more deadly on its own, its ease of spread may lead to more deaths.

— Matt Sepic | MPR News

State tallies 320 vaccine doses ruined

Officials say a total of 320 vaccine doses have been wasted in Minnesota in recent months.

Northern Minnesota’s Cass County had a disproportionate number of those wasted doses, according to state records: a total of 90 that were not used.

“Ninety doses were non-viable and unable to be used due to exposure outside of the storage temperature requirements and the timing of the occurrence,” said Michelle Piprude, the county’s director of health, human and veterans’ services.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines need to be stored in extremely cold temperatures. Minus 70 degrees for the Pfizer vaccine and minus 20 degrees Celsius for the Moderna vaccine.

— Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Top headlines

Online community helps people find COVID vaccine appointments: Members of a Facebook group called Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters help people across Minnesota find and sign up for vaccination appointments each day. Since it launched Feb. 1, the group has grown to more than 20,000 members.

Latino small business stay resilient through a ‘pandemic year’: Small businesses have never had it easy and over the past year, things got a lot harder — especially for the Latino business community. Now, one year into pandemic-related restrictions, some resilient small businesses are starting to look to the future.

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