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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Poised for a vaccination upswing

Mar 03, 2021 05:52AM ● By Editor
Afton Bonin, director of nursing at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, fills a syringe with the Moderna vaccine in preparation for people coming in on Thursday at the Cook County Community Center in Grand Marais, Minn.   Photo: Derek Montgomery for MPR News

From Minnesota Public Radio News - March 3, 2021

Vaccination traction is here. Vaccination acceleration may be on the way.

Minnesota Health Department data shows the state’s vaccination trend line is headed in the right direction. The seven-day rolling average is running at nearly 37,000 a day, the highest it’s been since vaccinations began in late December. 

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 6,490 deaths (4 new)

  • 485,655 positive cases (443 new); 97 percent off isolation

  • 16.3 percent of Minnesotans 16 and older with at least 1 dose

  • 53 percent 65 and older with at least 1 dose

State officials have said for weeks that they’d be ready to ramp up vaccinations when they got more supply. With the feds now saying there will be enough vaccine to inoculate every adult American by the end of May — two months earlier than expected — the table seems set.

Newly reported COVID-19 vaccine doses in Minnesota

The picture here had been brightening already with the addition of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one shot. More than 45,000 doses of the newly approved vaccine should be distributed in Minnesota this week.

“We view Johnson & Johnson as a game changer that will help us to quickly provide immunity to even more Minnesotans,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Tuesday. 

Gov. Tim Walz has vowed that every Minnesotan should be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot by the summer

A line chart

About 16.3 percent of Minnesotans age 16 and older — more than 900,000 people — had received at least one dose as of Tuesday’s Health Department update, with about 8.5 percent completely vaccinated.

Fifty-three percent of Minnesotans 65 and older have received at least one shot currently, according to Health Department calculations. That’s important since Walz has said the state will expand vaccination eligibility when 70 percent of that population gets a first dose.

Minnesota currently ranks 16th among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

A bar graph
Officials on Tuesday said that 84 percent of Minnesota’s nursing home residents had received at least an initial dose while 69 percent had been completely vaccinated; 89 percent of assisted living residents had at least one dose while 63 percent received the complete series.

Long-term care facilities were once the epicenter of the disease, but cases have plummeted to levels not seen since early in the pandemic, said Lindsey Krueger, director of the state’s office of health facility complaints.

Ninety-six percent of facilities are allowing visitors now, she told reporters Tuesday. Shortages of health care workers at the facilities had also been a major concern early on, but the state’s emergency operations center currently has no requests for help on staffing, she added.

Pandemic metrics relatively stable

While the pace of vaccinations is picking up, Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show the state holding fairly steady in a good way.

Hospitalization rates remain encouraging at levels last seen before the late-fall surge in cases. The Health Department on Tuesday reported 243 people in Minnesota hospitals with COVID-19, with 57 needing intensive care, staying down at relatively low levels.

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations

Known, active cases came in at just under 7,000, continuing a trend that stayed fairly stable through February and remains down dramatically from late November and early December, when active cases hovered around 50,000.

Active confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Four newly reported deaths raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,490. Among those who’ve died, about 63 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

The state has recorded 485,655 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 443 reported Tuesday. 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.

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota
Officials continue to implore Minnesotans to wear masks in indoor public gathering spaces, socially distance and otherwise stay vigilant against the spread of the disease. They remain concerned about COVID-19 strains with the potential to spread. Minnesota has 112 confirmed cases of the so-called U.K. variant and two cases of the Brazil variant.

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 91,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 48,000 among those ages 20 to 24.

New Minnesota COVID-19 cases by age adjusted for population

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 38,000 total cases among those ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began. 

With kids increasingly returning to school buildings and sports, Minnesota public health officials are urging Minnesota families with children to get tested every two weeks for COVID-19 now until the end of the school year.

Although young people are less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth 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. 

Regionally, most parts of Minnesota are down significantly from the late November and early December spike, as well as a smaller January uptick. 

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

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.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by race

Even as new case counts continue to track well below their late November, early December peaks, the data shows Latino people continue to be hit hard.

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.

Distrust by communities of color “is the thing that has plagued us for some time,” Walz said last week at a briefing promoting vaccinations for people of color.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that it’s been a “real problem” not having data broken down by race and ethnicity but that the state may have data to share soon.

Latest developments

Don’t delay important medical care due to COVID, health care experts in NE Minn. urge patients

Hospital officials in Duluth say that people are foregoing needed health screenings and other medical care, presumably because of lingering fears of COVID-19. 

Officials with Essentia Health and St. Luke's in Duluth are urging patients not to put off necessary health care until the pandemic is over. They say they've seen a drop in the number of people coming in for cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies. 

Essentia's Dr. Jon Pryor said the hospital performed 750 colonoscopies last year — that's a 33 percent drop from 2019. 

"Please, please, please seek care if you need it so that your health doesn't deteriorate. Get the follow up care you need for conditions like diabetes and hypertension. Get your preventive care like colonoscopies and mammography,” Pryor urged patients. 

Emergency room doctors in the area also say that patients are sicker than they used to be, suggesting they're waiting longer to seek care.

"My heart just breaks when I see patients who waited too long to see us and as a result have worse outcomes than they would have had otherwise,” said Essentia physician Andy Boehland. “This started to happen last spring when COVID was new and scary, but it's still happening today."

Doctors say they've also noticed a significant drop in vaccination rates for children for diseases like measles. 

— Dan Kraker | MPR news

Top headlines

President Biden vows enough vaccine for all U.S. adults by end of May: President Joe Biden says the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot. 

In Cook County, volunteers help vaccinate a grateful public:Cook County, at the tip of Minnesota's North Shore, has the highest vaccination rate in the state. Nearly everyone in the county who is 65 or older has gotten their first COVID-19 shot. Several factors have contributed to Cook County’s success, including a small army of volunteers that’s played a critical role in getting the county vaccinated.

To see the original stories and read more COVID-19 Reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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