At the same time, other key COVID-19 metrics continue to offer definite signs of hope. New daily caseloads are retreating from their late November, early December peaks.
The Health Department posted 1,513 newly confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, part of more than a week of relatively moderate new caseloads and the lowest in two months. An expected surge from Thanksgiving gatherings hasn’t surfaced.
The number of active, confirmed cases in Minnesota is about 18,000 the lowest since late October.
The agency said 1,073 people remained in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, with 238 needing intensive care. The seven-day trend of new hospital admissions fell to its lowest level in seven weeks.
Deaths reported Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 4,971. More than 2,500 COVID-19 deaths have been reported during November and December. That’s just over half of all the deaths in a pandemic that began here in March.
Wednesday’s caseload brought Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 pandemic total to 402,519. In about 94 percent of those cases, people have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
Even as they applaud the improving picture on caseloads and hospitalizations, state public health leaders continue to warn conditions could change dramatically if people don’t stay vigilant as year-end holidays approach.
They’re imploring people to wear masks in outdoor gathering spaces, socially distance and take other measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Minnesota still has “just a very, very high level of viral activity around the state, and we just don’t want to take our eye off that,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Tuesday. “We really need to stay the course through these next several weeks.”
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 77,000 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.
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.
250K vaccine doses by year-end
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday said the wheels are turning now on initial plans to vaccinate Minnesotans against COVID-19 and the process is working largely as expected.
Minnesota began injecting health care workers last week with the Pfizer vaccine after the firm received emergency federal approval. The state's first supply contained 46,800 doses; another 33,150 are expected to follow.
About 94,800 doses of vaccine produced by another company, Moderna, are expected this week, with much of that arriving in the next 24 hours, Walz told reporters. A second Moderna supply with about 32,900 doses is anticipated next week along with 42,900 more from Pfizer.
Walz said about 250,000 total doses are expected by the end of the month. Beyond that, things are still in flux.
The Moderna doses, which don’t require the kind of deep cold storage required for the Pfizer vaccine, are being scheduled now for residents and workers of long-term care facilities across the state.
Indoor pools can reopen Jan. 4
Gov. Tim Walz has adjusted his coronavirus restrictions to allow indoor pools to reopen early in the new year.
The Executive Council ratified the change Wednesday to align it with the resumption of other group fitness and youth sports reboots.
“The purpose of this executive order is to reopen pools for a narrow range of activities in compliance with industry guidance, including lap swim, lessons and organizing sports to begin on Jan. 4, 2021," Assistant Health Commissioner Daniel Huff explained.
Walz allowed health clubs to reopen last weekend with precautions. But pools had been left out.
Before adjourning the meeting, the governor indicated there would be no more changes to COVID-19 gathering and business restrictions before 2021.
— Brian Bakst | MPR News
Minnesota, Wisconsin to provide at-home COVID tests
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday that his administration has partnered with a medical testing company to provide at-home COVID-19 tests for free if a requestor lacks health insurance coverage as the state set a new record high in deaths tied to the disease.
The Wisconsin governor said his administration has struck a deal with Vault Medical Services to provide free at-home COVID-19 saliva tests. Anyone can order a test through the state Department of Health Services website starting immediately.
After a testing kit arrives, users must collect a sample as a Vault testing supervisor looks on via a Zoom connection. Users will then mail the sample back to a Vault lab using a prepaid label that comes with the kit. Results will take between two and three days.
Evers' administration did not include the cost of the program in the announcement. Vault's website indicates people can order a test for themselves for $119 per kit. Wisconsin’s Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said during a teleconference with reporters that a requester's health insurance provider will be billed. If the provider won't cover the test or a requester lacks health insurance the state will pay for it, she said.
Minnesota officials have reached a similar deal with Vault on at-home tests.
— The Associated Press
Some bars, eateries continue defying no-service rules
The Reopen Minnesota Coalition says some bars and restaurants continue to offer inside service despite Gov. Tim Walz executive order against it.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office has taken several enforcement actions against establishments that chose to defy the governor's ban on inside eating and drinking.
Reopen Minnesota organizer Darius Teichroew said the threat of legal penalties led to some businesses that planned to open illegally to change their mind. But other have held steadfast.
State officials say bars and restaurants violating the order could lose their liquor license and risk tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
— Mark Zdechlik | MPR News
CVS Health to vaccinate Minnesota’s long-term care residents for COVID-19
CVS Health will begin vaccinating more than 63,000 long-term care residents and workers across Minnesota next week, the company announced on Monday.
The pharmacy giant began vaccinating long-term care residents and staff in 12 states on Monday, and expects to begin administering the shot in 36 more states, including Minnesota, on Dec. 28 as part of its effort to vaccinate 4 million residents and staff at 40,000 facilities across the country in 12 weeks.
Minnesota began giving Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shots to healthcare workers last week after the vaccine received emergency approval earlier this month. The state's initial shipment last week contained 46,800 doses, and state health officials expect to receive more than 33,000 this week.
— The Associated Press