Two weeks ago, Gov. Tim Walz vowed that any Minnesotan who wanted a vaccination could get one by the summer. Now it’s possible the state could be ready to offer a shot to every Minnesota adult by late April.
Vaccinations are quickly gaining ground after a flat February. The seven-day trend is running at nearly 42,000 shots daily, the highest it’s been since vaccinations began in late December.
Officials continue to urge Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease, wearing masks in public gathering spaces and socially distancing. Concern continues to bubble around an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in Carver County that includes the worrisome U.K. strain.
Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:
• 6,705 deaths
• 493,013 positive cases; 97 percent off isolation
• About 20 percent of Minnesotans with at least one dose
• About 68 percent 65 and older with at least one dose
State public health leaders have described their push to vaccinate Minnesotans as a race against another possible surge in the disease.
They’ve said for weeks they’d be ready to ramp up vaccinations when they got more supply. With more than 127,000 doses expected this week in Minnesota and the federal government vowing to increase supplies to the states, the table seems set.
Walz and state health officials on Tuesday expanded vaccine eligibility to another 1.8 million Minnesotans.
The Health Department reported more than 602,000 people — 10.8 percent of the state’s population — have completed their vaccinations, while nearly 1.1 million — about 19.5 percent — had received at least one dose, including 67 percent of people age 65 and older.
Minnesota ranks 16th among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC also delivered some encouraging guidance on Monday, saying that people who are fully vaccinated can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or social distancing.
Data issues skew daily disease data
As the pace of vaccinations gains traction, Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show disease conditions continue to be mostly stable.
Hospitalization rates remain at levels last seen before the late-fall surge in cases. There were 231 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota as of Monday; 50 needed intensive care.
Known, active cases came in at just under 7,000 on Tuesday, continuing a trend that’s held steady through February and remains down dramatically from late November and early December.
Officials urged COVID-19 watchers not to read anything into Tuesday’s data around new daily cases and deaths. They said data error issues resulted in 138 deaths and 891 new cases showing up in Tuesday’s data that are from months ago.
The Health Department said the problems were tied to four private labs that failed to report positive tests to the state including from nursing homes. The agency said the problem was discovered during an audit.
The state declined to name the labs, because they are being investigated.
The additions brought Minnesota’s collective death toll to 6,705. Among those who’ve died, about 63 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.
The state has recorded 492,108 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic. About 97 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.
Concerns over UK variant’s spread continue
Minnesota health officials continue to warn of a growing outbreak of the UK COVID-19 strain centered around youth sports in Carver County. They are recommending, but not ordering, a two-week suspension of youth sports in the county amid the outbreak.
Since late January, there have been at least 80 COVID-19 cases linked to school and club sports in the metro area county. Among those, 27 have been confirmed to be the UK variant, state officials said Monday. Walz on Tuesday said the Health Department would likely be adding more cases to that count.
Epidemiologists have also seen an uptick of the UK variant cases in Carver County gyms and fitness centers — with many of those linked to the youth sports cases. The state will open a COVID-19 testing center in Chanhassen in response.
The growth of the variant presents an "added risk that we may see another surge in cases, and we need everyone to do their part to prevent that from happening,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Monday.
Many of those confirmed cases are young people who are not in line to get a vaccination in the short term.
It’s not just a Carver County problem, she added, noting that 15 counties have at least one confirmed case of the variant. Minnesota currently knows of 187 confirmed cases.
The UK strain is considered more transmissible than other coronavirus variants. While researchers don't believe it's more deadly on its own, its ease of spread may lead to more deaths.
“We’re making progress with vaccines,” she said, “but it is a race against time.”