Minnesota continues to recover from its recent COVID-19 wave, as health officials watch to see if cases surge following the Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends.
“We do continue to watch for any bump in cases associated with holiday gatherings. We think we might be seeing a little bit of that,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said this week.
Average daily case counts have increased moderately over the past week, after declining steadily for more than a month.
While average daily case counts have been ticking up, COVID-related hospital admissions showed more encouraging trends.
Prior to the holidays, more than 1,000 patients were being treated in Minnesota hospital beds for COVID-19. On Saturday, officials reported that 759 patients were being treated for COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals, with 130 in intensive care. That’s a drop from 787 COVID-19 hospitalizations reported on Friday.
Malcolm, however, warned that the next weeks will be critical to see if relaxing restrictions will have an impact on the virus spread.
“We must continue to take precautions to combat the spread of virus around our state,” Malcolm pleaded with Minnesotans. “We know that masking, social distancing (and) staying outside while gathering are just critical, as well as getting tested if you feel ill.”
Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:
- 5,663 deaths (43 new)
- 434,413 positive cases (2,489 new), 412,546 off isolation (95 percent)
- 5.9 million tests, 3.1 million people tested (about 60 percent of the population)
The new cases are from 42,612 COVID-19 tests reported Friday.
Meanwhile, 119,744 Minnesotans have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly 400,000 doses of the vaccine have been delivered to Minnesota since mid-December, but health officials warn it will take through the end of January to vaccinate those designated in phase 1A of the vaccine rollout.
State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said Thursday that around 9,000 nursing home workers and residents have been vaccinated — that's just a fraction of the total.
More than half of Minnesota nursing homes are receiving vaccines from drug store chains that have contracted with the federal government, but a lack of staff has led to bottlenecks in getting the shots to this high priority group.
Officials say CVS and Walgreens have told the Health Department it will take three to four weeks to get through all the nursing homes. Smaller pharmacies say they're able to move more quickly.
Malcolm added that Minnesota is screening for the U.K. variant of the coronavirus — which researchers say is a more transmissible form — but Malcolm said while the state health lab can screen for the variant, not all labs have the ability to do so.
Restrictions to ease next week
This week, Gov. Tim Walz announced a new executive order, allowing bars and restaurants to offer indoor dining again with limits starting Monday. Movie theaters, museums and other entertainment venues can also reopen after being closed since mid-November.
Walz framed the moves as cautious adjustments but made clear he won’t allow new virus spread to snowball. He also urged Minnesotans to continue social distancing and wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.
Caseloads spread across age groups
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 80,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 42,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 32,000 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.
New cases spread across Minnesota, not just one region
The minor bump in new cases is happening across the state, not just in one particular region.
Central and western Minnesota drove much of the increase in new cases over the past two months, while Hennepin and Ramsey counties showed some of the slowest case growth in 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 peak a few weeks ago, 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.
Minneapolis elementary schools to resume in-person learning next month
Minneapolis Public Schools plan to start bringing their youngest learners back to the classroom next month, the district announced Friday.
Superintendent Ed Graff said in a note to families that he wants to resume in-person learning for pre-kindergarten through second grade on Feb. 8, and third through fifth grade two weeks later. High school students would remain in distance learning.
Most students in the state's third-largest district have been learning remotely since COVID-19 first shuttered schools in March. Families still have the option to remain in distance learning.
District officials say they're following the latest guidelines from the state that prioritize in-person learning for the youngest students. Gov. Tim Walz has given Minnesota districts the option to reopen elementary schools in a phased manner starting Jan. 18 — with additional safety measures like face shields for teachers, frequent COVID-19 testing and cleaning.
Other Minnesota school districts have begun announcing their plans to bring students back in late January and throughout the spring.
— Riham Feshir | MPR News