Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 data continues to show the state generally on the right track, with key metrics staying relatively steady. After an early-week stumble, vaccination counts are rising again, although they’re still not matching levels from last week.
Thursday’s Health Department report showed the disease trends angling in the right direction despite an uptick in new case counts and active caseloads. Known, active cases stand at 8,542, similar to early October levels and still down significantly from around 50,000 in late November.
Counts also continue to look good on hospitalizations — 369 Minnesotans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 82 needing intensive care. ICU cases remain at levels not seen since September.
Seventeen newly reported deaths Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,251. 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’s recorded 465,176 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 1,410 reported Thursday. About 97 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The generally hopeful outlook is tempered now by concerns over new virus strains arriving in the United States. All three known new COVID-19 variants have now been confirmed in the U.S., including a case of the Brazilian strain identified recently 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 88,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 47,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 36,000 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 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.
Caseloads are trending down across all regions of the state following a late December, early January blip.
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 continue to fall 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 during the pandemic. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
‘Everyone is going to have to be patient’ on vaccines
While vaccination counts appear to be rebounding from their dismal levels the past few days, they remain below last week’s surge, suggesting that last week’s vaccination pace may have been the exception.
More than 475,000 Minnesotans received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, about 8.6 percent of the state’s population. Only about 2.3 percent had completed a full vaccine series.
Concerns continue to simmer over the speed of the effort — and the confusion it’s generated as people struggle to find out when and where they can get a shot.
On Tuesday, state officials said it could take up to four months to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older if the feds don’t deliver more vaccine faster; about 20 percent of that population has received at least their first dose.
Minnesota is still on a pace to be able to vaccinate 80 percent of adults by September.
State public health leaders have been pleading for patience over the pace of COVID-19 vaccination.
“We are getting Minnesotans vaccinated safely and quickly as supplies come to us,” Ehresmann told reporters Tuesday. But “we just don’t have enough vaccine and everyone is going to have to be patient.”
The state’s federal vaccine allocation is rising. But given the current rate of shipments, Ehresmann said it would take 16 weeks to vaccinate Minnesotans age 65 and older along with the other priority populations that “we need to get through.”