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)

The coming week of the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota may bring important updates to key metrics and the state’s response to the coronavirus.

But first, some waiting.

Waiting to see whether an uptick in daily case counts, test positivity rates and some other key metrics in recent days are a momentary blip in what have been weeks of declining numbers, or a sign of a changing trajectory in the pandemic.

And waiting to learn Gov. Tim Walz’s next steps for COVID-19 restrictions on bars, restaurants and entertainment venues that are set to expire on Jan. 10. Walz told MPR News on Sunday that he expects to offer more guidance by the middle of this week.

Minnesota enters the first full week of 2021 with COVID-19 numbers in a much better place than they were a month ago. But those numbers from recent days indicate the weeks of improving metrics might be leveling off.

For example, the average test positivity rate over the past week was about 7.1 percent in Minnesota as of Sunday — up from about 4.7 percent the previous Sunday. Average daily case counts had increased from about 1,700 early last week, to nearly 1,900 as of Saturday’s update.

It remains too early to tell whether those upticks are a short-term aberration or if they will endure — and some reporting of statistics might be affected by the end-of-year holidays. It’s something that will be closely monitored as we head further into January; officials already were watching for signs of any case increases that might be tied to holiday gatherings.

Sunday's update from state health officials covered two days' worth of data, catching up from the New Year's Day holiday. That temporarily muddles the weekly averages that can show pandemic trends better than the day-to-day numbers.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics, reported on Monday:

  • 5,443 deaths (13 new)
  • 423,688 positive cases, 405,556 off isolation (96 percent)
  • 5.7 million tests, 3 million people tested (about 52 percent of the population)
  • 7.1 percent seven-day positive test rate (officials find 5 percent concerning)

COVID-19 vaccinations continue around the state. As of Saturday’s update from the Minnesota Department of Health, just over 57,000 people had received at least one of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines; that figure was not updated on Sunday. Health care workers and long-term care facility residents have priority for the limited number of doses currently available.

The state has so far received nearly 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and nearly 128,000 of the Moderna vaccine.

Since before Thanksgiving, Minnesota bars and restaurants haven’t been able to offer indoor table service. Bowling alleys, museums, movie theaters and other entertainment venues have been closed, too.

Those pandemic restrictions are due to lapse Jan. 10. Walz told MPR News he’s aiming for Tuesday or Wednesday for updated guidance on what is shaping up as a phased reopening.

“Many of them are ready to put in mitigation efforts. But I think this idea that everybody is going to go back in maskless and pack these places, that’s not the way it’s going to look,” he said.

He said coronavirus test positivity rates are lower than they were when the restrictions were imposed, and hospitals aren’t under as much strain. Walz said he personally would feel comfortable eating at a restaurant once indoor table service resumes.

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 80,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 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.

Youth sports practices resume in Minnesota

Youth athletes in Minnesota are preparing to return to gyms, ice rinks, pools and other venues on Monday.

Organized athletics have been halted since mid-November as part of the coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Tim Walz.

While practices can now begin, winter-season competitions won’t be allowed until Jan. 14. In most sports, no spectators will be permitted and masks will be mandatory.

Farmington High School girls basketball coach Liz Carpentier said the athletes she coaches are excited to be back on the court. Last season her team advanced to a state championship game that was scrapped early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After last March, you know, all summer and all fall there’s been definitely the motto and the mood of ‘unfinished business.’ I think it’s fuel for them," she said.

Carpentier said players and coaches will adjust to the mask requirement and other new precautions.

“Just being mindful of the fact that, hey, they may need a bit more water, they may need more breaks here and there," she said. "That’s fine. But it’s not going to change the way we play. I’m not worried about that. We’re just going to look a little bit different when we hit the court.”

Group fitness classes at gyms are also allowed again, with some limitations.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Minnesota directs money toward vaccination effort

The Walz administration has directed about $40 million from a state COVID-19 fund to be used for vaccination deployment in Minnesota.

The allocation made in the final days of December will go toward the largest-scale vaccination push in state history. Millions of people will eventually be inoculated in the year ahead.

Documents from the Department of Health as well as Minnesota Management and Budget said the infusion of dollars is needed to create a vaccination infrastructure. Their preliminary estimates are that it will take at least $134 million to vaccinate all Minnesotans in a timely way.

The money will go for everything from planning and distribution to supplies, warehousing and community vaccination sites. A public awareness campaign is also in the works.

State dollars are being used because the timing and availability of federal money haven’t been made clear. Federal dollars are certain to flow to Minnesota to assist with the effort, or to assume costs that the state has incurred.

Minnesota has received federal reimbursement for a portion of its costs for setting up a temporary morgue related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State budget documents show the Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized about $4 million toward the cold storage facility in St. Paul that has yet to be used. The state purchased the warehouse for about $7 million to convert it for potential storage of human remains.

Gov. Tim Walz has taken heat for the expense, but he says he didn’t want bodies to wind up in freezer trucks as other states experienced when their death tolls mounted.

More than 5,400 deaths are attributed to COVID-19 in Minnesota, but funeral homes and local facilities have been able to accommodate remains so far.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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