March 15 update on COVID-19 in MN: Vaccination pace flat; Carver Co. worries grow

A woman waits for her vaccine.
Beverly Pratt awaits her second COVID-19 vaccination shot on Feb. 25 at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

3 things to know:

  • Nearly 23 percent of Minnesotans with at least 1 vaccine dose

  • 13 percent of state residents have completed vaccinations

  • Most pandemic metrics stable; Carver Co. outbreak concerning, includes two deaths

Updated: March 16, 9:40 a.m.

State public health leaders are increasingly anxious over a COVID-19 outbreak in Carver County tied partially to youth sports that also includes the highly contagious U.K. strain. On Monday, they confirmed 12 people have been hospitalized from the variant statewide; two have died.

Pandemic data overall shows the state remains in pretty good shape. New case counts and hospitalizations remain modest. Active, confirmed cases ticked up over the past week, but the trend lines are still steady.

The pace of vaccination has leveled off. That’s not necessarily a problem as the state expects to see its federal vaccine supply jump in coming weeks. Still, it’s likely cause for some heartburn among state officials who believe it’s a race now to get Minnesotans vaccinated quickly enough to avoid another statewide surge.

“We are very concerned about this (U.K.) variant and its rapid spread. It has the potential to be a setback to our hard-fought progress against the disease,” Dan Huff, an assistant health commissioner, told reporters Monday.

There are more than 250 cases of the U.K. strain confirmed statewide. It has the potential to spread throughout the state unless checked, Huff said. “We’re so close to the light at the end of the tunnel …. but this thing’s not over.”

Huff said the state is recommending young people across the state be tested every two weeks for COVID-19, with student athletes tested weekly. The Health Department is also asking everyone in Carver County to get tested.

Vaccination trend line flattens

The Health Department on Monday reported more than 33,000 new vaccinations, which was lower than the prior Monday. The seven-day trend is running at nearly 42,000 shots daily, down from Sunday’s high.

Nearly 725,000 people — 13 percent of the state’s population — have completed their vaccinations, while more than 1.2 million — about 23 percent — had received at least one dose, including more than 75 percent of people age 65 and older.

Because doses are shipped once a week, the state often sees its vaccination counts jump from Thursday through Sunday. The overall trend, though, is flat week-over-week following an early March jump.

Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

While officials monitor the recent uptick in active cases, overall trends have improved to the point where Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced a rollback of many of the state’s remaining pandemic restrictions. “Normalcy is on the horizon,” Walz said.

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

Officials continue to urge Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease, wearing masks in public gathering spaces and socially distancing.

A line chart.

Pandemic metrics mostly stable; eye on active cases

Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show disease conditions continue to stay mostly stable, although there has been a noticeable rise in the number of known, active cases. Sunday saw a one-month high, though the count ticked down again on Monday to 8,487.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

While the overall trend remains flat and current counts are still very low compared to late November and early December, the increase is notable given the concerns about the rise of the U.K. COVID-19 strain in Minnesota.

Hospitalization rates remain mostly steady at levels last seen before the late-fall surge in cases: 260 people were hospitalized with the disease as of Thursday with 59 needing intensive care.

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

One newly reported death brought Minnesota’s collective pandemic death toll to 6,747. 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 498,218 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 829 posted Monday. 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 93,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 49,000 among those ages 20 to 24.

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 39,000 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, all parts of Minnesota are in significantly better shape than they were in late November and early December. Some areas are seeing upticks in cases.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Caseloads 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 have offered up some data on vaccinations broken down by race and ethnicity. The state is expected to update the data weekly.

Health Commissioner Malcolm has said the state is 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.

Correction (March 16, 2021): A previous version of this story failed to note that the 12 hospitalizations and two deaths accounts for all Minnesota cases linked the U.K. variant. The current version is correct.

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

CVS, Goodrich pharmacies start MN vaccinations

Gov. Tim Walz announced Saturday that CVS Health and Goodrich Pharmacy have been added to the expanding network of pharmacies vaccinating Minnesotans across the state.

Minnesota now has five pharmacies with dozens of locations participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which is a collaboration between the federal government, states and territories, and 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks. Other pharmacies and health care providers are providing vaccinations through the state.

Three CVS in-store pharmacies at Target stores in Duluth, Rochester and Eden Prairie will receive 3,510 vaccine doses this week, according to the governor's office. Goodrich Pharmacy in the northern Twin Cities metro will receive 1,170 vaccine doses this week.

“As vaccine supply from the federal government continues to increase, we’re building the path so getting your COVID-19 vaccine can be as easy as making an appointment online and walking into your local CVS at Target or pharmacy,” Walz said in a news release. “We will continue to mobilize every option we have to get more life-saving shots into more arms as quickly as possible and end this pandemic together.”

Appointments at CVS and Goodrich Pharmacy will become available in the coming days, and the locations and contact information for scheduling appointments will be accessible on the Vaccine Locator and Vaccine Connector websites when the information becomes available.

— The Associated Press and MPR News staff

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