3 things to know
Officials urging more youth testing; masks now optional for athletes while playing outdoors
About 54 percent of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose; 39 percent are completely vaccinated
Vaccine pace slips as supplies stall
Updated 11:45 a.m.
Minnesota’s current COVID-19 outbreak continues to show signs of receding, with a range of metrics suggesting case growth in this wave has peaked. Officials, though, continue to plead with the public for vigilance.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Thursday that the number of school-related COVID-19 cases in students this week is running higher than in November’s fall surge.
“We really do believe that the end of the pandemic is in sight, but we’re not there yet,” she said. “It depends entirely on the decisions we make now, and over the coming weeks.”
Vaccination pace flat as supplies stall
The race is on to get more Minnesotans vaccinated fast enough to keep the current wave from worsening.
State Health Department data show more than 1.7 million Minnesotans have completed their full vaccine series — two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — while more than 2.3 million have at least one dose.
That works out to nearly 39 percent of 16-and-older Minnesotans completely vaccinated and 54 percent with at least one shot, according to the state’s calculations, including 86 percent of residents age 65 and older.
The state’s efforts have been hampered recently by supply cuts, particularly in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which federal authorities paused last week as they investigate the possibility of rare side effects associated with the shot.
Still, supply still continues to outpace demand in some parts of the state.
On Tuesday, Mayo Clinic, which has locations throughout southern Minnesota, put a call out to media that it had too many spots. In a notice sent to the press, Mayo said that people who are not Clinic patients could sign up for a vaccine with them, as well as people who don’t live in Minnesota.
Hospital, ICU needs hover at winter levels
Metrics like hospitalizations and deaths often continue to rise or stay high for awhile even as active cases start to ebb. That’s the case in this wave.
Overall hospitalizations have climbed significantly over the past few weeks and are hovering at levels not seen since January. Health officials say coronavirus variants circulating in Minnesota are driving those increases.
Friday’s numbers showed 689 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals; 202 needed an intensive care bed — the highest ICU count since late December.
The age of those newly hospitalized is trending younger than earlier in the pandemic. The majority of people in the hospital now for COVID-19 are younger than 60.
Known, active cases came in at about 18,000 in Friday’s state Health Department report, higher than the prior day but still among the lowest counts in the past two weeks and trending down from last Friday’s peak of just over 20,000.
Given the state’s vaccination push, officials didn’t expect this wave would match the 50,000 active cases seen in the late November surge. But they’ve been anxious about the growth of COVID-19 variants and Minnesotans’ willingness to stay vigilant against the disease.
The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive continues to trend down after a recent upswing. It’s still above the 5 percent threshold that experts find concerning.
Ten deaths reported Friday raised Minnesota’s overall pandemic death toll to 7,064. Among those who have died, about 62 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
The state has recorded 564,584 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including the 2,167 posted Friday. About 95 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.
Regionally, all parts of Minnesota are in better shape than they were in late November and early December. Cases counts were creeping up the past few weeks across the state, but it appears to have mostly peaked.
MN urges more COVID-19 youth testing, OKs playing sports maskless outdoors
Minnesota officials say they want more testing of middle and high school students because they’re increasingly concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in younger people, particularly those playing youth sports.
State health and education officials on Thursday posted updated guidance urging athletes, coaches, referees, volunteers and other youth sports participants to get tested weekly for COVID-19.
Students not participating in sports or other group activities are “still strongly encouraged” to test every two weeks, they said. Middle and high schools are being advised to offer on-site testing.
As it urged more testing, the Health Department also eased its guidance on when student athletes must wear masks.
Officials said players do not have to wear masks while playing outdoor sports but must wear them when not actively playing — sitting on the sideline or the baseball dugout, for instance. Masks must continue to be worn at all times for indoor sports, the agency said.
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — about 105,0000 since the pandemic began, including more than 54,000 among those ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 45,000 15-to-19-year-olds known to be infected during the pandemic.
Although young people are less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry they will spread it unknowingly to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations. Those with the COVID-19 virus can spread it when they don’t have symptoms.
Macalester College to make COVID vaccination mandatory this fall
Macalester College in St. Paul says it will require students and employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus for the fall semester.
In a message to the campus Friday, Macalester President Suzanne Rivera said there will be limited exemptions, following the same process in place for other required vaccinations.
The college is offering a COVID-19 vaccine clinic on campus next week.
Macalester joins a growing list of colleges and universities around the country imposing similar requirements, including public universities in California and Maryland.
— Andrew Krueger | MPR News
MN schools to stay open despite growing COVID-19 spread among students: The number of school-related COVID-19 cases reported this week in Minnesota has now exceeded a peak in November. State officials are not changing their policies governing youth sports or schools. Instead, they’re urging students to get tested more regularly — and are asking schools to make it possible for students to do that on site.
As COVID cases rise among kids, teens targeted for vaccination: Around the state, local public health departments, officials and schools are collaborating to vaccinate a group that’s increasingly behind the worrisome spread of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 as they head back to school, sports and extracurricular activities.
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.
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