Minnesota officials on Wednesday reported 66 new COVID-19 deaths and 2,019 new cases as a week of hope and uncertainty continued.
The count of known, active cases in Minnesota continued to fall to near 12,000, a level not seen since late October, part of an overall slowdown in caseloads since their late November, early December peak.
Hospitalization trends have also improved significantly over the past two weeks. As of Tuesday, 926 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 in Minnesota, with 207 needing intensive care. Both numbers are down by about half from their late November peaks.
Still, the state reported 66 more deaths from the disease. More than 2,800 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19 complications during November and December. That’s more than half of all pandemic deaths, with December the deadliest month by far.
State health officials have warned that the improving picture could change dramatically if people don’t stay vigilant. 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 Wednesday put Minnesota at 413,107 in the pandemic. Of those, roughly 96 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,262. 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 — nearly 79,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 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 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, with most regions dipping down to levels before the state’s COVID-19 surge that hit in November and early December.
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.
Nearly 40K vaccinated so far
Nearly two weeks into Minnesota's vaccine distribution program, about 38,000 people have received their first shots.
Many hospitals started vaccinating their front-line workers the week of Dec. 21, with a few starting days before that. Long-term care providers started vaccinating residents this week, with nearly 600 given so far.
The state has so far received nearly 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and nearly 95,000 of the Moderna vaccine. That vaccine is mostly being used to inoculate people living and working in skilled nursing facilities.
The state is on track to have received 250,000 doses by the end of Thursday.
Despite questions about the pace of vaccinations, state officials said that vaccination was actually proceeding more quickly, but that the data is delayed and incomplete at this point.
Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Wednesday that the “average Minnesotan” — people who don’t fall into a high risk health category or a priority category such as health care workers and first responders — should anticipate getting vaccinated in late spring or early summer.
Mpls. firefighters and EMTs get first vaccines
Minneapolis firefighters and emergency personnel have started to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Dozens lined up to get their shots at the city's emergency operations training center Tuesday morning.
Up first was Minneapolis Fire Chief Bryan Tyner.
"I don't feel like as chiefs we can ask people to do something that we're not willing to do ourselves," Tyner said.
Firefighters will be followed by city and Metro Transit police. The city is working through which employees will need the vaccine next.
”We're going to make sure that that all city employees who want to get vaccinated are able to, but we're definitely going to take care of the ones who are higher risk first,” said Toni Hauser, the emergency preparedness manager for the Minneapolis Health Department.
Hauser said the city is weighing factors such as close regular contact with the public and how essential the employees’ jobs are.
Emergency personnel are included in the same priority group as frontline health care workers and nursing home residents.
— Peter Cox | MPR News
State wants masks on youth hockey, hoops players
Minnesota student athletes must wear masks at all practices and games — even during high-exertion sports such as hockey and basketball, state officials said Monday.
There are exceptions for swimmers while they're in the water, as well as wrestlers, and certain gymnastics and cheerleading routines.
The regulations came as part of the new COVID-19 guidance for youth winter sports. In November, Gov. Tim Walz ordered a “pause” on prep sports as part of a larger effort to minimize public gatherings to stop the disease’s spread.
Under the new guidance, teams can conditionally begin games and scrimmages with other teams starting Jan. 14. Practices, which can start next Monday, may not include more than 25 people.
— Matt Sepic | MPR News