• 79°

Pandemic recedes; statewide COVID curbs end

If you’re looking for more signs that Minnesota’s COVID-19 pandemic is firmly in retreat, Friday will be a good day.

That’s when all remaining statewide COVID-19 capacity limits on bars, restaurants and other public gathering spaces end in time for Memorial Day weekend. Businesses and local governments can still continue restrictions, but the state mandate is lifted.

The end of those restrictions comes as the pandemic metrics continue to improve. New daily cases over the past week are running at their lowest level since early July. Active cases have receded to mid-September levels.

Here are Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 statistics:

  • 7,403 deaths (10 new)
  • 600,408 positive cases; 98% off isolation
  • 63.9% of Minnesotans 16 and older with at least one vaccine dose; 57.7% completely vaccinated

With the disease data solid, state officials are pushing now to boost another set of numbers around vaccinations. 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.

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

Hospitalizations, active cases receding

After an anxious April, it appears Minnesota’s spring surge is over.

Thursday’s Health Department report shows the count of known, active COVID-19 cases stayed just below 5,000 for the second straight day, the first time that’s happened since mid-September.

Active cases are down 75% from their most recent high of around 20,000 in mid-April.

There were 334 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 80 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.

Ten newly reported deaths put Minnesota’s pandemic toll at 7,403. 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 600,408 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including the 505 posted Thursday — the 13th consecutive day of fewer than 1,000 new cases. The seven-day new case average fell below 500 a day for the first time since July 9.

About 98% 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 been stabilizing at around 40,000 shots a day. Thursday’s data, though, showed, that pace down to 32,500. It’s likely the 40,000 rate was an anomaly driven by a backlog of shot data reported last week.

More than 2.8 million residents 16 and older now have at least one vaccine dose. More than 2.5 million have completed their vaccinations as of Thursday’s update.

That works out to about 57.7% of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and 63.9 percent with at least one shot, including 89% of those 65 and older.

Minnesota’s also seeing notable growth in the number of children ages 12 to 15 getting vaccinated in the two weeks since federal authorities approved the Pfizer vaccine for use at those ages.

Health Department data shows more than 66,000 Minnesota 12-to-15-year-olds with at least one dose. That’s more than 20 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.