Minnesota pandemic trends solid; vaccinations languish

Published 4:42 pm Friday, May 14, 2021

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Minnesota’s COVID-19 picture continues to improve following a spring surge, with active caseloads and hospitalizations trending at or near their lowest points in the past six weeks.

As the April wave ebbs, however, state public health leaders continue to stress that the pandemic is not over. Underpinning their concern: The vaccination pace has collapsed in recent weeks and remains at a relative crawl.

It’s not clear how Minnesota’s decision to drop the statewide mask-wearing order as of Friday will affect the vaccination effort going forward. Officials, though, acknowledge they need to do more to get unvaccinated Minnesotans to get their shots.

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Active cases, hospitalizations down

Despite the slow vaccination pace, the disease metrics continue to show Minnesota’s spring case surge easing. The new-case trend is running at a little more than 1,000 a day, the lowest it’s been in nearly two months.

The count of known, active COVID-19 cases came in at 10,334 — slightly higher than the past couple of days but still about half its most recent high of around 20,000 in mid-April.

Friday’s report showed 464 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 123 needed intensive care. Both figures continue to trend down from their recent peaks. New hospital admissions have dropped significantly.

Nine newly reported deaths put Minnesota’s pandemic toll at 7,283. 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 592,750 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including the 1,306 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 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 appears to have peaked.

Officials continue to implore Minnesotans to keep their guard up during proms, graduations and other spring events, noting that more contagious COVID-19 variants are driving new cases across the state.

Youth, young adult counts concerning

While the overall trends are solid, officials are increasingly concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in younger people. They’ve been urging more testing of middle and high school students and weekly testing for athletes, coaches, referees and other youth sports participants.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 109,000 since the pandemic began.

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 48,000 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 will 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.

Vaccinations stagger forward

About 2.7 million residents 16 and older now have at least one vaccine dose; more than 2.2 million have completed their vaccinations as of Friday’s update.

That works out to 51.2 percent of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and more than 61 percent with at least one shot, including 88 percent of those 65 and older.

The vaccination pace has plummeted in recent weeks. Minnesota’s seven-day average rate of new first-dose vaccinations has fallen below 10,000 a day for the first time since Jan. 24.

The work to reach out to people who haven’t yet been vaccinated “will be a bit harder” than when Minnesotans were lining up for the shots, state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said recently.

“We recognize successes are going to be hard to come by in this phase,” she said. “Anytime we move up by a percentage point [in people vaccinated], that’s a big deal.”

Eligible Minnesotans can now walk in for a COVID-19 vaccination without an appointment at the state’s community vaccination program locations.

South-central Minnesota update

Almost 13,000 people have received at least one vaccine dose in Freeborn County, according to the latest update from the Minnesota Department of Health.

The state indicated 12,935 people  have received at least one dose and 11,670 have received the completed series in the county.

Only five new COVID-19 cases were reported from Wednesday through Friday in the county, and as of Thursday, only 26 active cases remained.

The following are updates on other counties on Friday:

  • Faribault County: two new cases; 5,749 people with at least one vaccine dose and 5,200 with completed series
  • Mower County: nine new cases; 18,029 people with at least one vaccine dose, 16,239 with completed series
  • Steele County: 16 new cases; 15,919 with at least one vaccine dose, 13,662 with completed series
  • Waseca County: three new cases; 7,745 people with at least one vaccine dose, 6,759 with completed series.