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COVID-19 update: Vaccinations rise; cases, hospitalizations up

Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 vaccination data shows some promise after several days of lackluster data.

The Health Department on Friday reported 58,514 more vaccinations, significantly higher than last Friday. The seven-day trend is now running at nearly 41,000 shots daily. The trend’s been mostly flat to declining recently. That’s not necessarily bad since vaccine supplies are expected to jump soon.

Case counts and hospitalizations, however, are starting to slowly rise again and new hot spots are bubbling, reinforcing the belief that Minnesota’s in a race now to vaccinate people quickly enough to avoid another statewide COVID-19 surge.

More than 788,000 people — about 14.2 percent of the state’s population — have completed their vaccinations, while more than 1.3 million — 24 percent — have received at least one dose, including nearly 78 percent of people age 65 and older.

Officials continue to urge Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease, wearing masks in public gathering spaces and socially distancing.

Minnesota anticipates getting 350,000 doses the week of March 29, Gov. Tim Walz said Friday. Starting in April, officials also expect the feds to deliver 100,000 doses a week of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose.

At the same time, state officials remain anxious about the case growth tied to the highly contagious U.K. COVID-19 variant and to youth sports. On Thursday, they said they’re seeing “dramatic increases” of COVID-19 around Aurora, on the eastern end of Minnesota’s Iron Range.

Active cases up; Carver Co., Iron Range hot spots

Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show disease conditions relatively stable compared to the late fall surge, but there are caution lights flashing.

There has been a noticeable rise recently in the count of known, active cases. Thursday’s data shows 10,210 cases, marking eight consecutive days with active counts above 8,000, a stretch not seen since late January. It’s also the first time since late January that active cases pushed above 10,000.

While current counts are still low compared to late November and early December, the increase is notable given the concerns about the rise of the U.K. COVID-19 strain in Minnesota.

Hospitalizations are still low compared to the late-fall surge, but those counts are also creeping up: 316 people were hospitalized as of Wednesday, with 74 needing intensive care.

Nine newly reported deaths brought Minnesota’s collective toll to 6,771. 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 502,893 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 1,449 posted Friday. 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.

State public health leaders continue to keep close watch on a Carver County outbreak that includes the very contagious U.K. strain. Twelve people have been hospitalized statewide from that strain; two have died.

“We are very concerned about this (U.K.) variant and its rapid spread. It has the potential to be a setback to our continued and hard-fought progress against the disease,” Dan Huff, an assistant health commissioner, told reporters Monday.

With more than 250 cases of the U.K. variant confirmed statewide, it has the potential to spread throughout the state unless checked, Huff said. “We’re so close to the light at the end of the tunnel … but this thing’s not over.”

The state is recommending young people across the state be tested every two weeks for COVID-19, with student athletes tested weekly; officials are also asking everyone in Carver County to get tested.

The Health Department on Thursday also warned of a COVID-19 outbreak in the eastern end of Minnesota’s Iron Range centered around the town of Aurora. It didn’t say how many cases but officials will open a free testing site in Aurora on Monday and Tuesday and are encouraging anyone in the area to get tested.

“We are increasingly concerned about dramatic increases in cases, particularly in St. Louis County. Right now Aurora is at the heart of this COVID-19 hotspot, which is spreading to neighboring counties,” the Health Department said in a statement.

South-central Minnesota update

Freeborn County reported 12 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, increasing the county’s cumulative total to 2,977.

Information about the new cases or how many cases are still considered active has not yet been released.

As of Tuesday, 7,305 people in Freeborn County had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 4,014 had received the completed series.

Statewide, 1,505 new cases were reported, increasing the state’s cumulative total to 501,458. Of that number, about 16,000 are considered active cases and 297 people are hospitalized, including 74 in intensive care.

Six new deaths were reported from six counties and included people ranging in age from early 50s to late 90s. The state has now had 6,762 total deaths, of which 4,244 lived in long-term care or assisted living facilities.

The following is an update on other area counties:

• Faribault County: 12 new lab-confirmed cases, one probable case; 1,317 total cases; 3,433 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 1,826 have received completed series

• Mower County: seven new lab-confirmed cases; 4,242 total cases; 10,041 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 5,374 have received completed series

• Steele County: 12 new lab-confirmed cases; 3,185 total cases; 8,397 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 4,181 have received completed series

• Waseca County: two new lab-confirmed cases; 2,143 total cases; 4,313 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 2,279 have received completed series