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Pandemic data solid; vaccination pace crawls

Minnesota’s pandemic picture continues to brighten in this first week of June. New and active caseloads have fallen dramatically since the spring surge and are hovering now around levels not seen since April 2020.

There’s a lingering concern that the recent end of masking requirements and capacity limits for bars and restaurants may lead to an uptick in cases in a few weeks.

Officials also worry about the waning pace of vaccinations. While more than 70 percent of the 16-and-older population in the Twin Cities metro area has at least one vaccine shot, the rate is only about 57 percent outside the metropolitan region.

Overall, though, the data continues to paint a picture of a pandemic in retreat.

Active cases, hospitalizations receding

How quickly have conditions improved? Minnesota’s averaged only 249 new cases a day over the past seven reporting days. A month ago, it topped 1,500 a day. The latest count of known, active COVID-19 cases came in at 2,353 — the lowest level since April 2020.

There are 252 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 72 in intensive care. Both figures continue to trend down from their spring peaks. Six weeks ago, hospitalizations were approaching 700 people, with more than 200 in ICUs.

Average daily hospital admissions have fallen by half over the past two weeks.

Ten newly reported deaths on Thursday put Minnesota’s pandemic toll at 7,437. Among those who have died, about 60 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted-living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

Deaths outside of long-term care have seen a significant drop recently. They’re averaging three per day now compared to nine daily deaths a month ago.

The state’s recorded 601,881 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including the 238 posted Thursday.

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 now they are low and plunging in every age group and every region.

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.

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.

Vaccination pace sliding

The vaccination pace has been struggling to regain its traction the past six weeks and is now declining rapidly. Thursday’s data showed the state averaging about 17,000 shots over the last seven reporting days, less than half its pace from two weeks ago.

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

That works out to about 59.2 percent of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and 64.7 percent with at least one shot, including 90 percent of those 65 and older.

Minnesota’s seen 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 79,000 12-to-15-year-olds with at least one dose. That’s about 27 percent of that population already with at least one shot. The pace, though, has dropped off significantly following the early surge.

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.

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.

Gov. Tim Walz last week rolled out incentives, including state park passes and Minnesota State Fair tickets, to nudge people to get their shots. Around 2,000 people have registered to get an incentive so far, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Wednesday.