Minnesota officials on Monday reported another 13 COVID-19 deaths, continuing an already difficult December. Other closely watched metrics, however, are offering signs of hope.
New daily caseloads continue to retreat from their late November, early December peaks. The number of active, confirmed cases in Minnesota is below 14,000 for the first time since late October.
The Health Department posted 1,087 newly confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, part of a two-week trend of relatively moderate new caseloads.
Hospitalization trends have improved significantly the past two weeks. About 878 people are in the hospital with COVID-19 in Minnesota as of Sunday, with 203 needing intensive care.
The rate of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — a metric officials use to judge the level of virus spread in the state — continues to pull back. The seven-day positive rate trend is at about 5.2 percent, down about two-thirds from its mid-November peak. A rate of 5 percent or more is considered concerning.
State health officials have warned that the improving picture could change dramatically if people don’t stay vigilant as year-end holidays approach. They continue to implore people to wear masks in indoor gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
The cases reported Monday put Minnesota at 410,138 in the pandemic. Of those, about 93 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,160. Among those who’ve died, about 65 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
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 78,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 41,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 31,000 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 grandparents and other vulnerable populations.
It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
New cases ebb across Minnesota
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.
Cases continue to fall statewide, but still haven’t dipped down to their levels before the state’s COVID-19 surge that hit in November and early December. Controlling for testing volume, the case positivity rate is falling in almost every county in Minnesota. Even the state’s most populous, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, have had a positivity rate below 5 percent over the past week.
After a spike in confirmed cases through much of November and early December, all regions of the state have seen new case numbers fall.
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.
Walz extends pay cut for himself and his chief of staff
Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday he’s adding six months to a 10 percent pay cut that he and his chief of staff are taking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April, Walz imposed a pay cut for himself and agency commissioners to save the state money and show solidarity with people struggling due to restrictions he imposed. Those were set to expire next week.
A new executive order leaves the 10 percent pay cut in place for only two people: Walz and chief of staff Chris Schmitter. Walz earns $127,000 a year; Schmitter makes about $140,000. The Cabinet-level pay will return to prior levels.
Walz said agency heads are working longer hours to manage the pandemic. Minnesota’s budget situation has also improved.
Walz also signed an executive order allowing out-of-state pharmacists to help administer the COVID-19 vaccine because of staffing strains among Minnesota pharmacists.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News