Minnesota’s newest COVID-19 numbers show the state holding steady on a relatively positive path. Key metrics, including new case growth and hospitalizations, continue to improve.
Health officials on Tuesday reported 922 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease — along with 6 more deaths; 584 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, with 110 needing intensive care. Intensive care cases are down to their lowest point since Oct. 1.
Two months ago, the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state hovered around 50,000. Now, that count is 11,227, it’s lowest level since October.
While the trends look encouraging following an awful November and December — when new cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked — public health leaders still caution that another surge, originating from year-end holiday gatherings, is likely in the coming weeks.
The state is also struggling to gain traction in its efforts to get vaccination shots into arms.
A state official on Tuesday said a booking website launched at noon to speed vaccinations has been overwhelmed, getting some 2,000 hits per second with a spike of more than 10,000 a second. By early afternoon, the state had about 2,800 appointed booked out of roughly 65,000 slots at the pilot sites.
The problems drew quick condemnation from state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point. On Twitter, she called the vaccine pilot program “absolutely unacceptable! All it did was give seniors false hope. The website is down & phone lines overloaded.”
The COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday put Minnesota at 448,268 in the pandemic. Of those, about 96 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
The newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 5,945. Among those who’ve died, about 64 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
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 85,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 45,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with nearly 35,000 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.
A relatively small bump in new cases has been happening across 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 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.
Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
‘I plead for your patience’
Minnesota officials on Monday said they were launching a new effort to speed vaccinations to people age 65 and older, along with child care workers and school staff.
Not all Minnesotans who are eligible to get a vaccine under the new program will be able to get it immediately. Minnesota is only receiving roughly 60,000 doses a week. At this current pace of vaccine supply, it will take more than four months to get through the 1 million or so newly eligible Minnesotans, according to Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.
"I plead for your patience," Gov. Tim Walz said as he and state health officials rolled out the new program Monday.
The governor express hope that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will provide more clarity around the distribution and availability of the vaccine in the coming weeks. Biden has said he wants to vaccinate 100 million Americans during the first 100 days he’s in office.
When the federal government starts to deliver more vaccine, “we will be ready. The end of this pandemic is closer today than it was yesterday,” Walz said.
Nine community vaccination sites will be opened around the state. Health care workers and long-term care staff can still get vaccinated at their place of work or care facility. The governor’s office said community vaccination sites will begin offering vaccines on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Eligible Minnesotans must schedule their vaccination appointment on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination website beginning at noon on Tuesday.
As of Friday, Minnesota has administered first doses to 194,462 people across the state, and 38,025 have received their second dose, according to the state's dashboard.
The state now says just under 40,000 Minnesotans have received both recommended doses. That’s from about 517,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine that have been shipped to Minnesota so far, including the federal program for long-term care facility vaccinations.
MN Senate extends online marriage license option
Minnesota lawmakers are moving quickly to extend a virtual option for obtaining marriage licenses during the pandemic.
By a unanimous vote Tuesday, the state Senate agreed to allow for couples to get their licenses without at least one of them appearing in person at a government office. That clearance had expired last week. The new deadline would be May 31.
"I don't think we want a bunch of angry brides, mother of the brides, father in the brides coming in if their marriage application would get delayed and the ceremony would not be able to happen,” said state Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove.
Improving conditions and the availability of vaccines will allow for a winding down of exceptions like these by the end of spring, said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.
A House vote and signature from Gov. Tim Walz are needed to allow for the extension.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News