May 4 update on COVID-19 in MN: Active cases recede; Walz set to ease curbs

A woman points at a card a man is holding.
Black Nurses Rock member nurse Lily Thomas (left) tells Chinaker Kinapoe to keep his vaccine card and return for a second dose at a vaccine clinic at the Power of People Leadership Institute in Minneapolis on March 19.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

3 things to know

  • Vaccination pace declining

  • 58.7 percent of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least one dose; 45.2 percent completely vaccinated

  • Gov. Walz on Thursday is expected to unveil looser capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants

Updated: 2:48 p.m.

Minnesota’s COVID-19 trends continue to show the state on the downslope of a recent wave, but public health leaders are still pleading with residents to get vaccinated and stay vigilant against spreading the disease.

While active case counts are at their lowest since late March, so are vaccination trends. That’s slowing the state’s efforts to reach herd immunity.

Overall, the disease metrics look solid enough that Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday is expected to announce he’s loosening some pandemic curbs, likely raising capacity limits for bars, restaurants and other indoor public gathering spaces.

"Minnesotans have done what was asked. We out-vaccinated that surge where hospitals were getting overwhelmed in states like Michigan and now in Oregon. It didn't happen in Minnesota because we're still doing the mitigation efforts and we're still vaccinating,” he told reporters. during a visit Tuesday to a Hopkins elementary school.

“We're at a place right now and the projections look incredibly good."

Officials remain anxious about the flattening pace of vaccinations and what seems to be a wavering public will around mask wearing and other COVID-19 precautions.

Active cases, hospitalizations down

The count of known, active COVID-19 cases fell to 13,428 in Tuesday’s numbers — down from the most recent peak of about 20,000 in mid-April and the lowest it’s been since late March.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Tuesday’s report showed 575 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 149 needed intensive care. Both figures continue to trend down from their recent peaks.

Eleven newly reported deaths brought Minnesota’s pandemic toll to 7,174. Among those who have died, about 61 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 581,335 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including the 998 posted Tuesday. About 96 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to isolate.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Regionally, all parts of Minnesota are in better shape than they were in late November and early December. Case counts had been creeping up the past few weeks across the state, but the trend appears to have peaked.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Officials continue to implore Minnesotans to keep their guard up during proms, graduations and other spring events, noting that more contagious COVID-19 variants are driving new cases across the state.

“There is still an extremely high level of virus circulating all over the state,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Tuesday.

Vaccination pace wanes

More than 2.5 million residents 16 and older now have at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 2 million have completed their vaccinations, as of Tuesday’s update.

That works out to more than 45 percent of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and nearly 59 percent with at least one shot, including 87 percent of those 65 and older.

A line chart.

Minnesota’s vaccination pace, however, has been slipping in recent weeks.

Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

The state’s vaccination efforts have been hampered by supply cuts, particularly of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Officials, however, also acknowledge the state must do more to connect unvaccinated people to shots.

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

The work to reach out to people who haven’t yet been vaccinated “will be a bit harder” than when Minnesotans were lining up for the shots, state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said Tuesday.

“We recognize successes are going to be hard to come by in this phase,” she said. “Anytime we move up by a percentage point (in people vaccinated), that’s a big deal.”

Youth counts concerning

While the overall trends are solid, officials are increasingly concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in younger people. They’ve been urging more testing of middle and high school students and weekly testing for athletes, coaches, referees and other youth sports participants.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 107,000 since the pandemic began.

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 47,000 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.

People attending proms, graduations and other youth-oriented events are a special concern now for health officials.

The work by schools and districts to build safeguards into those events “can be completely undermined if students and parents don’t do their part, as well,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters recently.

Latest developments

MN GOP wants amnesty for businesses that violated COVID curbs

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate say they want amnesty for businesses that violated COVID-19 restrictions.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announced the amnesty proposal as part of a larger budget offer he made to House Democrats, an opening bid in end-of-session negotiations that DFL Gov Tim Walz and other Democrats are unlikely to accept.

Gazelka wants to waive any penalties levied against businesses for violating executive orders issued by Walz the past year in response to the pandemic.

“We’re nearing the end, I believe. And as we get through this, many of those small businesses had many hardships, and I think this is something that could really make this go better,” said Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.

Senate Republicans also want an end-of-session deal that lifts all of the governor’s executive orders, including mask requirements, he added.

— Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Top headlines

Minnesota businesses struggle with back-to-work plans: What will office space look like after the pandemic? Many businesses are grappling with that question right now as they contemplate bringing back employees who’ve worked remotely for more than a year. Open plan shared spaces may be the thing of the past and many people might be splitting their time between conventional work spaces and home offices.

FDA expected to OK Pfizer vaccine for teens within week: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for young adults age 12 and older by next week, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year. 

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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