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’s COVID-19 numbers have settled into a good news, bad news groove. While Tuesday’s data shows the disease trends continuing to brighten, the state is still struggling for traction on the pace of vaccinations.

Health Department figures show Minnesota added 586 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease atop 564 on Monday, the first time since September the state saw two consecutive days with fewer than 600 cases. Known, active cases came in at 7,666, the lowest count since late September.

Hospitalization counts remain very encouraging — 321 Minnesotans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday, with 74 needing intensive care. ICU cases are down to their lowest level since late August.

The vaccination trend line, though, remains angled in the wrong direction. After a late January surge, Minnesota slipped last week, with fewer vaccinations reported than the previous week. The trend appears to be continuing.

Minnesota’s seven-day average now sits at just under 24,000 daily doses administered, down from more than 30,000 per day a week ago. About 10.2 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Saturday, with about 2.9 percent completely vaccinated.

The state on Monday ranked 14th among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hoping to speed the effort, the Health Department has opened mass vaccination sites in the Twin Cities and Duluth. Another will open this week in Rochester. Officials, though, say the challenge remains getting the federal government to supply the state with more vaccine.

Walmart and Thrifty White pharmacies will be administering about 16,000 doses of the vaccine this week for Minnesotans 65 and older at locations across Minnesota. Those doses are part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

The state is reallocating 8,000 doses for Walgreens to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older at 40 locations. Information on scheduling appointments at Walmart, Thrifty White and Walgreens will be posted through the state's online vaccine finder.

Six reported deaths on Tuesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,308. 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 469,254 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic. 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.

State officials continue to caution that the hopeful trends are still tenuous, noting the new virus strains arriving in the United States, including two cases of the Brazilian strain and 16 of the U.K. variant 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 89,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 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.

Cases are trending down across all regions of the state following a late December, early January blip.

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.

Bars, restaurants press to fully reopen by May 1

Hospitality industry leaders joined a trio of Republican lawmakers on Monday to outline a proposal that aims to fully lift businesses restrictions by May 1.

The plan would set criteria for a phased reopening that would include off-ramps if infection and hospitalization rates shoot up.

Resorts and event centers need certainty in particular because many are losing bookings to other states months into the future as Minnesota keeps its capacity limits intact, said Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar.

“Time is ticking,” Baker said. “Every week that goes by is another week we’re closer to a busy season when we can get outside. The businesses need some support here.”

Representatives of two hospitality trade groups said they’ve been given no indication in regular meetings with the Walz administration when restrictions will next be relaxed to allow for more customers to be served at once or for larger events to be permitted.

Youth sports mask challenge fails

Critics of the state's mask mandate have lost another court challenge, this time to the requirement for student athletes.

Let Them Play, a group of parents and high school sports supporters, asked a federal judge to lift Gov. Tim Walz's order requiring athletes to wear masks during some sports, like hockey and basketball. They also challenged spectator limits.

Federal Judge Eric Tostrud denied the request for an injunction. He called the objections sincere and reasonable, and also said evidence masks add to the risk of injury was credible. But he said the question is not for courts. In his opinion he wrote political powers, like governors and lawmakers, should weigh the risk of spreading a deadly disease and the benefits of participating in organized sports.

The ruling also noted government has extraordinary power to address public health threats

It's the latest in several Minnesota mask challenges to fail in courts, including the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Duluth, Rochester mass vaccination sites opening

The state’s second community vaccination site opened Monday in Duluth, with 1,500 people ages 65 and over expected to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The site at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center joins another site that opened last week at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The state on Monday also announced that a Rochester site will open this week.

While most Minnesota seniors will get vaccinated through their health care providers at hospitals, clinics or pharmacies, state officials have said these community sites are needed to reach people who don’t have established relationships with providers.

The large-scale vaccination sites replace nine pilot clinics the state set up last month to administer vaccines to people age 65 and older who preregistered with the state’s lottery system.

— Dan Kraker | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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