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)

Thursday’s COVID-19 data offers reasons to remain encouraged about the path of the pandemic and reasons for hope around the pace of vaccinations.

Hospitalization counts remain steady at late September, early October levels, with 320 Minnesotans hospitalized as of Wednesday and 78 needing intensive care.

Known, active caseloads came in under 8,000 for the third straight day, the first time that’s happened in nearly five months. New cases reported were a fairly modest 907.

The vaccination pace appears to be gaining some traction again after falling and flattening following a late January surge. The state on Thursday reported 24,360 new vaccinations, higher than the prior Thursday. The seven-day trend line shows an uptick, but still lags the pace from a few weeks ago.

Officials have been emphasizing over the past weeks that the relatively low flow of vaccine supplies from the federal government is the main problem holding back the pace of vaccinations. There’s data to back that up.

About 10.8 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Tuesday, with about 3.2 percent completely vaccinated.

The state on Wednesday fell to 23rd among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hoping to speed the effort, the Health Department has opened mass vaccination sites in the Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth. Walmart and Thrifty White pharmacies will be administering about 16,000 doses of the vaccine this week for Minnesotans 65 and older at locations across Minnesota.

The state is shifting 8,000 doses for Walgreens to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older at 40 locations. Information on scheduling appointments at Walmart, Thrifty White and Walgreens will be posted through the state's online vaccine finder.

Most residents of Minnesota long-term care facilities should receive their second doses of COVID-19 vaccine by end of February, Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday.

Twenty-four reported deaths on Thursday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,343. 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’s recorded 470,803 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 they no longer need to be isolated.

State officials continue to caution that the hopeful trends are still tenuous, noting the new virus strains arriving in the United States, including two cases of the Brazilian strain and 16 of the U.K. variant in Minnesota.

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 89,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 47,000 among people ages 20 to 24.

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 36,000 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 unknowingly to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations.

People can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.

Cases are trending down across all regions of the state following a late December, early January blip.

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 continue to fall 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.

Bars, restaurants press to fully reopen by May 1

Hospitality industry leaders joined a trio of Republican lawmaker this week to outline a proposal that aims to fully lift businesses restrictions by May 1.

The plan would set criteria for a phased reopening that would include off-ramps if infection and hospitalization rates shoot up.

Resorts and event centers need certainty in particular because many are losing bookings to other states months into the future as Minnesota keeps its capacity limits intact, said Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar.

“Time is ticking,” Baker said. “Every week that goes by is another week we’re closer to a busy season when we can get outside. The businesses need some support here.”

Representatives of two hospitality trade groups said they’ve been given no indication in regular meetings with the Walz administration when restrictions will next be relaxed to allow for more customers to be served at once or for larger events to be permitted.

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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