COVID-19 Latest

A dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is prepared before being administered at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. (Evan Frost/MPR News)

Minnesota continues to show relatively positive trend lines on a host of key COVID-19 metrics, including new cases and hospitalizations.

The Health Department on Friday reported 1,640 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease — along with 33 more deaths; 612 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, with 125 needing intensive care.

Hospitalizations have dropped by more than half over the past four weeks. The seven-day trend of new hospital admissions is down to levels not seen since late October.

Hospital admissions are now lower than they were on Nov. 1, but still above their Oct. 1 level.

While the improving trends look good following an awful November and December — when new cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked — public health leaders still don’t believe the state is in the clear. They believe another surge, originating from year-end holiday gatherings, is likely in the coming weeks.

Gov. Tim Walz said has said his COVID-19 experts remain worried about a February spike. On Monday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm braced Minnesotans to see daily death and case counts trending higher again.

Active, confirmed case counts are trending up slightly compared to early January.

“We do expect to see cases go back up in Minnesota following the year-end holidays, and potentially just as a result of the winter wearing on and more indoor time and more gatherings,” Malcolm told reporters.

The cases reported Friday put Minnesota at 443,562 in the pandemic. Of those, about 95 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,850. Among those who’ve died, about 64 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

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 — nearly 85,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 44,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 34,000 total cases among those ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

Although less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations.

It’s of particular concern because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.

A relatively small bump in new cases has been happening across the state.

Hot spots continue to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.

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.

Even as new case counts ease from their late November, early December peaks, the data shows people of color continue to be hit hardest.

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.

Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.

‘Still in a high-risk situation’

Although the overall conditions have improved significantly in Minnesota over the past two weeks, state public health leaders continue to implore people to wear masks in indoor public gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

The state last week said it has confirmed five cases of the new, more-contagious coronavirus variant in the Twin Cities metro area. The variant was first detected in the United Kingdom and has since been confirmed in several other U.S. states. It has not been found to cause more-serious cases of COVID-19.

“While our trends have stabilized, we are still in a high-risk situation, and this variant is a major unknown as to what it will do here,” Malcolm said Thursday.

More vaccine eligibility, not enough vaccine

Minnesota officials say it’s OK now for the state’s health care providers to expand the pool of people eligible for a COVID-19 shot. The problem: Minnesota doesn’t have the supplies yet to vaccinate them.

State health leaders on Thursday said hospitals and other providers can now vaccinate a wider group of Minnesotans, including people age 65 and older and those most susceptible to the disease.

The move allows providers with available vaccine to get it into arms as quickly as possible and to “make sure they have nothing holding them back,” Malcolm told reporters.

The commissioner added a big caveat — the state needed to get more vaccine from federal authorities to make the broader eligibility work. She emphasized that those in the expanded pool should not been rushing to make vaccination appointments.

The new guidance to hospitals and other sites was done simply to remove any barriers to providers that have been vaccinating health care workers and other priority populations and still have some vaccine available.

“We’re talking about small numbers of doses that some health care providers and agencies have told us” they could use if they got state authorization, Malcolm said. “We are not yet ready to advise large groups of Minnesotans on how they can get vaccine.”

Trump administration officials earlier this week urged states to immediately expand eligibility to people 65 and older as well as people deemed especially susceptible to the disease.

State leaders applauded that announcement but noted that the feds needed to follow through with the vaccine shipments to make it happen.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday that the wider pool could potentially add “a couple million people who will expect to be vaccinated” in Minnesota, she said. “If we’re only getting 60,000 doses a week, that is going to be a real problem.”

About 500,000 doses have been shipped to Minnesota so far to health providers and the federal program for long-term care facility vaccinations, according to the state’s new COVID-19 vaccination dashboard website; more than 160,000 Minnesotans have received at least one dose so far.

Inflammatory illness tied to COVID ID’d in 56 MN kids

A worrisome inflammatory condition believed to be related to COVID-19 has surfaced in 56 Minnesota children since the pandemic began, state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said Thursday.

While the condition, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, has been deadly in New York, the Minnesota children affected have all survived, although some have required intensive care.

Minnesota is seeing more cases now than last fall, Lynfield told reporters.

While the count is small — 56 out of more than 72,000 COVID-19 cases confirmed in children ages 19 and younger — the inflammatory condition has disproportionately hit children of color harder. Sixty percent of the Minnesota cases identified were Black or Latino children, Lynfield said.

— MPR News Staff

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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