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COVID-19 update: Vaccinations, hospitalizations rising across state

By Minnesota Public Radio News

There’s no doubt Minnesota is seeing another COVID-19 wave. The questions that can’t be answered exactly right now are — how long will it last and how bad will it be?

Disease metrics continue to show Minnesota headed down the wrong path with active cases and hospitalization trends at levels not seen since the winter.

State officials believe the vaccination effort this spring will ensure that Minnesota doesn’t relive the worst of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean the next few weeks will be easy.

Adding to the complication: On Tuesday, state officials followed the lead of the federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which jointly recommended a pause in administering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“This is being done out of an abundance of caution. This is the way the system is supposed to work. I would anticipate this should be a relatively short pause,” Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday as he toured a mass vaccination center at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Walz noted that 95 percent of the vaccinations in Minnesota have been Pfizer or Moderna supplies and those shipments are continuing unabated.

Severe side effects from the J&J vaccine remain very rare, added Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Anyone experiencing severe headaches, abdominal pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the J&J shot should contact their health care provider, she said.

Officials say they are not aware of any cases of blood clots occurring among the more than 184,000 stare residents who have received the single dose vaccine.

Vaccinations, cases, ICU needs push higher

The newest numbers suggest the state may reach a hopeful milestone — half of adults with at least one vaccine dose — by the end of this week or early next.

About 32.5 percent of Minnesota adults are completely vaccinated; 47.7 percent have received at least one vaccine dose, including about 84 percent of residents age 65 and older, the state Health Department said Tuesday.

But as vaccination numbers rise, COVID-19 case counts are trending higher, too.

The number of known, active cases has been trending upward over the past few weeks, with more than 17,000 as of Tuesday’s report — marking more than three weeks with active daily counts above 10,000.

Hospitalizations have climbed significantly in the past weeks to levels not seen since January, and deaths tied to the disease are trending up, too. Health officials say coronavirus variants circulating in Minnesota are driving those increases.

The state on Tuesday reported 676 people in Minnesota hospitals with COVID-19; 159 needed intensive care, hovering near the highest number of ICU patients since early January.

While still low compared to late November and early December, the rising trend is notable given the worries over the rise of the highly contagious U.K. COVID-19 variant, which state health officials suspect is driving the current upswing.

To date, the state has confirmed at least 1,600 cases of the U.K. strain. State epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said last week that the variant is linked to five deaths here and likely responsible for the majority of the spread happening now.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said recently that while the increase in cases is concerning, the growing number of vaccinated people in Minnesota means the state likely won’t see as steep a surge in cases of the scope seen in November and December.

Three deaths reported on Tuesday raised Minnesota’s overall pandemic death toll to 6,962. Among those who’ve died, about 62 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The state has recorded 545,404 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 1,367 posted Tuesday. About 95 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.

Regional hot spots bubble

Regionally, all parts of Minnesota are in better shape than they were in late November and early December. The latest numbers, however, show cases creeping up across the state.

Public health leaders continue to keep watch on clusters popping up over in recent weeks in the southwest Twin Cities metro area as well as Mankato in southern Minnesota, in central Minnesota and around Aurora and Ely in the northeast.

On Monday, the state reported a new outbreak associated with a youth wrestling tournament. The state has linked at least 16 cases to the Northland Youth Wrestling Association State Wrestling Tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D., between March 31 and April 3.

The tournament drew 2,000 wrestlers in addition to spectators and Minnesota health officials say there was lax masking and social distancing at the event.

Nine counties, including Cass, Le Sueur, Lyon, Morrison, Murray, Rice, Todd, Wright and Yellow Medicine have confirmed cases. Eight schools in these regions have cases associated with the event.

State officials are asking that any students or families that attended the event be tested immediately, and to avoid all unnecessary travel.

South-central Minnesota update

Freeborn County reported six new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and has now had  had 3,223 people who have had COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

There are now 101 active cases. One hospitalization was reported.

The new cases included one person between 10 and 14, three people in their 40s and one person in their 50s. Age was unknown for one person.

As of Sunday, 11,409 people in Freeborn County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 7,524 people have received the completed series.

The following is an update on other area counties:

• Faribault County: three new lab-confirmed cases; 1,422 total cases; 5,080 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 3,571 had received the completed series.

• Mower County: two new lab-confirmed cases; 4,479 total cases; 15,890 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 10,250 had received the completed series.

• Steele County: 28 new lab-confirmed cases, one probable case; 3,526 total cases; 13,048 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 8,335 had received the completed series.

• Waseca County: two new lab-confirmed cases; 2,280 total cases; 6,450 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 4,388 had received the completed series.