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 is seeing signs of improvement heading into the new year, after two months of spikes in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths. But even as vaccinations begin and case counts slowly recede, officials still caution the pandemic is not over yet.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 5,323 deaths (61 newly reported)
  • 415,302 positive cases (2,204 new), 397,080 off isolation (96 percent)
  • 5.5 million tests, 3 million people tested (about 52 percent of the population)
  • 6.6 percent seven-day positive test rate (officials find 5 percent concerning)

Known, active cases of the disease continue to fall and are now near 13,000, having peaked around 50,000 a month ago, part of an overall slowdown in caseloads since their late November, early December peak.

The state has reported 97,099 new positive cases of COVID-19 in December, a volume of new cases second only to November’s 170,000-case record.

Hospitalization trends have also improved significantly over the past two weeks. As of Wednesday, 895 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 in Minnesota, with 196 of those patients needing intensive care. Both numbers are down by about half from their late November peaks.

The dreadful news: More than 2,800 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19 complications during the months of November and December. That’s more than half of all pandemic deaths in the state, with December the deadliest month by far.

Thursday’s data included 61 new deaths, making the total reported death toll for December 1,730. While it is still a devastating daily number, it is lower than last Thursday’s 79 deaths — and the daily death rate is still trending down. We won’t know the total death count for 2020 for another couple weeks.

On Thursday, Minnesota reported 6,354 new COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, taking the state to a total of 44,638.

But state health officials have warned that the improving picture could change dramatically if Minnesotans 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.

Minnesota’s death toll sits at 5,323 people. Among those who have died, about 65 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities.

State health officials will not issue updated COVID numbers on Friday because of the New Year’s Day holiday. The updates will resume on Saturday, with data from Thursday. Sunday’s update will include two days’ worth of data.

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 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 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 45K vaccinated so far

Nearly two weeks into Minnesota's vaccine distribution program, about 45,000 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.

The state has so far received nearly 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and nearly 128,000 of the Moderna vaccine. That vaccine is mostly being used to inoculate people living and working in skilled nursing facilities.

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.

Minnesota nursing home residents celebrate vaccine rollout

A year after COVID-19 first appeared in China, vaccinations are rolling out across Minnesota, especially in vulnerable senior living sites.

Nearly two thirds of Minnesota's COVID-19 fatalities have been traced to outbreaks in long-term care settings like nursing homes.

The Gardens nursing home in St. Paul vaccinated nearly 60 residents and the staff that cares for them on Wednesday, with help from the Walgreens drugstore chain.

Administrator Keanan Franco said outbreaks have been limited to just a handful of residents at the 60-bed facility, but that people have had to be vigilant.

“They're excited to do it they can't wait to be able to come out of the room see their families be able to do the things that they were doing before so,” Franco said. “The only questions I really had a band just in regard to you know the process but otherwise just excitement and eagerness and readiness to get it done.”

Shiela Beck, who is 88, said she has no hesitation about getting vaccinated and hoping to get back to normal.

“I think you should avail yourself of what they're doing for you, instead of being so combative about it,” Beck said.

Another resident at The Gardens, 94-year-old Shirley Bethke, also welcomed the vaccine. She told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer that she hopes it helps end the isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[It’ll] be nice to be able to average returns again. We could have visitors outside during the summer. … Right now, of course we don't have any visitors at all,” she said.

A second round of vaccinations is scheduled for the home in late January.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Sauk Centre hospital returns to routine operations as COVID-19 patient number drops

A Sauk Centre, Minn., hospital temporarily designated for patients with COVID-19 is returning to normal operations this week.

In November, CentraCare designated its hospital in Sauk Centre for less critical patients with COVID-19. The move was aimed at easing pressure on its largest hospital in St. Cloud, Minn., where the sickest patients are treated.

Since then, the numbers of people admitted to the hospital and intensive care unit have declined.

Dr. George Morris, medical incident commander for CentraCare's COVID-19 response team, says the number of patients in the ICU has dropped from a high of 59 to more normal levels of 17 to 22 daily.

"We're at a point now, where we can see that we're consistently on the downward trend, and that we can push them back into more their regular work,” Morris said. “We have more employees on site. And we've managed ways. Each time we go through these crises, we learn."

Morris said staffing levels also are back closer to normal. At one point, roughly 10 percent of CentraCare's 13,000 employees were out due to exposure to or testing positive for the virus, or caring for a family member.

More than 2,000 CentraCare employees have now received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, along with residents and staff of five long-term care facilities, Morris said.

— Kirsti Marohn | MPR News

AG Ellison files suit to halt Winnebago New Year's Eve event

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Wednesday he wants to shut down a planned New Year's Eve party in Winnebago because it violates Gov. Tim Walz's executive order on activities that could hasten the spread of COVID-19.

Ellison said in a release that the Carlson Event Center in the southeastern Minnesota town advertises the event as a “big new year's dance” and asks attendees to bring their own beer and liquor. The release said phone calls and emails to the business have not been returned.

Ellison said when a business “irresponsibly opens to the public to throw a dance party” it is "simply prolonging the pain of the pandemic for everyone."

Garth Carlson, owner of the facility, told the Star Tribune that Ellison's depiction of the event is wrong.

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Carlson said. “It’s not a party. It’s not a bash. It’s a religious gathering.”

The attorney general's lawsuit asks a judge to stop the party, award damages to the state and impose civil penalties.

— The Associated Press

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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