March 9 update on COVID-19 in MN: Vaccination pace solid; eligibility expands

A man holds a vial while wearing a face mask.
John Pastor (right) and Dr. Abe Jacob of Fairview Health show Gov. Tim Walz a newly arrived vial of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine in Minneapolis last week.
Matt Sepic | MPR News file

3 things to know:

  • Vaccination pace accelerates; Minnesota expands eligibility

  • Nearly 11 percent of Minnesotans fully vaccinated

  • Carver County youth sports outbreak remains a concern

Updated: 5:49 p.m.

Minnesota’s COVID-19 vaccination picture continues to brighten.

Tuesday’s data showed some 20,620 new vaccinations, significantly higher than the prior Tuesday. The seven-day trend is running at nearly 42,000 shots daily, the highest it’s been since vaccinations began in late December.

The newest numbers came minutes after Gov. Tim Walz and state health officials expanded vaccine eligibility to another 1.8 million Minnesotans and indicated that by late April the state could be ready to offer a shot to any Minnesota adult.

Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

State public health leaders have said for weeks that they’d be ready to ramp up vaccinations when they got more supply. With more than 127,000 doses expected this week in Minnesota, the table seems set.

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

The Health Department reported more than 602,000 people — 10.8 percent of the state’s population — have completed their vaccinations, while nearly 1.1 million — about 19.5 percent — had received at least one dose, including 67 percent of people age 65 and older.

State officials told reporters Tuesday that pharmacies around the state this week have been redirecting doses from places that are saturated to areas where demand was greater.

Minnesota ranks 16th among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A line chart.

The CDC also delivered some encouraging guidance on Monday, saying that people who are fully vaccinated can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing.

Data issues skew daily disease data

As the pace of vaccinations gains traction, Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show disease conditions continue to be mostly stable.

Hospitalization rates remain at levels last seen before the late-fall surge in cases. There were 231 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota as of Monday; 50 needed intensive care.

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

Known, active cases came in at just under 7,000 on Tuesday, continuing a trend that’s held steady through February and remains down dramatically from late November and early December.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Officials urged COVID-19 watchers not to read anything into Tuesday’s data around new daily cases and deaths. They said data error issues resulted in 138 deaths and 891 new cases showing up in Tuesday’s data that are from months ago.

The Health Department said the problems were tied to four private labs that failed to report positive tests to the state including from nursing homes. The agency said the problem was discovered during an audit.

The state declined to name the labs because they are being investigated.

The additions brought Minnesota’s collective death toll to 6,696. 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 has recorded 492,108 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 where 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 92,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 48,000 among those ages 20 to 24.

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.

UK outbreak in Carver Co. linked to youth sports

Minnesota health officials continue to warn of a growing outbreak of the U.K. COVID-19 strain centered around youth sports in Carver County. They are recommending, but not ordering, a two-week suspension of youth sports in the county amid the outbreak.

Since late January, there have been at least 80 COVID-19 cases linked to school and club sports in the metro-area county. Among those, 27 have been confirmed to be the U.K. variant, state officials said Monday.

Walz on Tuesday morning said the Health Department would likely be adding another 40 cases to that count.

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. The state will open a COVID-19 testing center in Chanhassen in response.

The growth of the variant presents an "added risk that we may see another surge in cases, and we need everyone to do their part to prevent that from happening,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Monday.

Many of those confirmed cases are young people who are not in line to get a vaccination in the short-term.

It’s not just a Carver County problem, she added, noting that 15 counties have at least one confirmed case of the variant. Minnesota currently knows of 187 confirmed cases.

The U.K. strain is considered 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.

“We’re making progress with vaccines,” she said, “but it is a race against 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.

Top headlines

MN vaccine eligibility expands beyond seniors to younger people, some essential workers: By Wednesday, roughly 3 million Minnesotans will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, as the state reaches a key threshold in vaccinating its 65-plus population.

Fully vaccinated people can gather without masks, CDC says: Fully vaccinated Americans can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing, according to long-awaited guidance from federal health officials.

COVID vaccinations take center stage in long-standing program to address health care inequities: For 15 years, an M Health Fairview program has worked to address inequities in health care. That effort is now focused on getting the COVID-19 vaccine to communities that have often not had equal access to health care.

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