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Case counts and vaccination pace falling

Minnesota’s average daily COVID-19 case counts have been plummeting in recent days — and so has the state’s COVID-19 vaccination pace.

As of Sunday’s update from state health officials, the seven-day rolling average of new cases each day fell below 400 — the lowest level seen in the state in more than 11 months. The average COVID-19 test positivity rate is just above 2 percent — near an all-time low since the start of the pandemic.

But the COVID-19 vaccination pace in Minnesota is now averaging fewer than 23,000 shots a day over the past week. That’s less than half the number of doses administered each day at the start of May, and the lowest level since late January as the state is now offering incentives to try to push more people to get vaccinated.

There will be a day’s wait before seeing whether those trends continue; the Memorial Day holiday means there won’t be updated numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health on Monday. Those updates will resume on Tuesday.

Here are Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 statistics, as of Sunday’s update:

  • 7,426 deaths (8 new)
  • 601,384 positive cases; 98 percent off isolation
  • 64.5 percent of Minnesotans 16 and older with at least one vaccine dose; 58.8 percent completely vaccinated

Active cases now below 4,000

Sunday’s Health Department report showed the count of known, active COVID-19 cases dropped below 4,000, the first time that’s happened since last July.

There were 316 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota as of Friday; 77 needed intensive care. Both figures continue to trend down from their April peaks. The count of intensive care patients is at its lowest point since March. Five weeks ago, more than 200 people were in ICUs.

New hospital admissions are also trending at their lowest point in more than two months.

Eight newly reported deaths on Sunday put Minnesota’s pandemic toll at 7,426. Among those who have died, about 60 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted-living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The state has recorded 601,384 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including the 287 posted Sunday — the 16th consecutive day of fewer than 1,000 new cases. The seven-day new case average is down to a level last seen in late June.

About 98 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to isolate.

Regionally, all parts of Minnesota are in better shape than they were in late November and early December. Case counts had crept up across the state during April, but the trend is clearly on the slide.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 111,000 since the pandemic began. The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 49,000 15-to-19-year-olds known to be infected during the pandemic.

Although young people are less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry they can spread it unknowingly to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations. Those with the COVID-19 virus can spread it when they don’t have symptoms.

Vaccination pace wobbly

After a roller coaster few months, the seven-day vaccination trend had stabilized at around 40,000 shots a day earlier this month. Recent days’ data, though, now shows that pace down to fewer than 23,000 — making it more likely the recent 40,000 rate was an anomaly driven by a backlog of shot data.

The current pace of vaccinations is less than half what it was at the start of May, and the lowest level seen since late January.

More than 2.8 million residents 16 and older now have at least one vaccine dose. Nearly 2.6 million have completed their vaccinations as of Sunday’s update.

That works out to about 58.8 percent of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and 64.5 percent with at least one shot, including 89 percent of those 65 and older.

Minnesota is also seeing notable growth in the number of children ages 12 to 15 getting vaccinated since mid-May, when federal authorities approved the Pfizer vaccine for use at those ages.

Health Department data shows more than 76,000 12-to-15-year-olds with at least one dose. That’s about 26 percent of that population already with at least one shot.

State public health leaders have been pleading with those still not vaccinated to get their shots. Eligible Minnesotans can now walk in for a COVID-19 vaccination without an appointment at the state’s community vaccination program locations.

With the disease data solid, state officials are pushing now to boost vaccination counts. Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday rolled out incentives, including state park passes and Minnesota State Fair tickets, to nudge unvaccinated Minnesotans to get their shots. On Friday, he highlighted some post-vaccination perks.

Officials are pressing now to get at least 70 percent of the state’s 16-and-older population vaccinated with at least one dose by July 1.