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Vaccinations rebound; pandemic trends steady

After falling and then flattening following a late January surge, Minnesota’s COVID-19 vaccination counts are starting to rebound as overall pandemic trends remain encouraging.

The state Health Department on Friday reported about 40,000 new vaccinations, a significant jump that helped push the seven-day average to levels seen in early February. Officials noted that Minnesota’s now put more than 1 million COVID-19 doses into arms.

About 13.1% of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Wednesday, with about 5.2% completely vaccinated. Roughly 39% of Minnesotans 65 and older have received at least one shot.

State public health leaders have emphasized over the past weeks that the relatively low flow of vaccine supplies from the federal government is the main problem holding back the pace of vaccinations.

Despite Friday’s rebounding vaccination numbers, the Health Department this week warned the cold snap gripping the nation will delay vaccine shipments to Minnesota, potentially depressing vaccination counts in the short-term.

The department said about half of the 85,000 or so doses expected this week will not arrive in time as expected. The state has already postponed appointments at two community vaccination sites set for Thursday and Friday.

While Friday’s vaccination numbers were positive, Minnesota at the current pace would only be able to vaccinate about 80 percent of adults by sometime in September. Getting it done by summer would require the state to administer 40,000 to 50,000 shots per day, or more.

Minnesota’s currently ranked 23rd among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccination questions aside, Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers show the state on a steady, positive path, with key pandemic metrics continuing to improve. Known, active cases ticked above 7,000, but the overall trend is solid, hovering around late September levels.

The seven-day hospital admissions trend for people with COVID-19 has also receded to September levels.

There were 282 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals as of Thursday. It was a second consecutive day of hospitalizations below 300, the first time that’s happened since the fall; 59 people needed intensive care.

Eight reported deaths on Friday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,412. Among those who’ve died, about 63 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The seven-day rolling average for deaths is down to 7 deaths per day, the lowest since September.

The state’s recorded 477,287 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 1,001 reported Friday. About 97 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

The trends offer reasons to feel encouraged, enough so that Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday proclaimed “we’re on our way to ending the pandemic” as he OK’d reopening secondary schools, starting Monday. “We’re beating this thing.”

State health officials continue to monitor new virus strains circulating in the United States, which may be more contagious. Walz and other officials have warned that they could lead to an increase in cases.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, reaffirmed those concerns on Tuesday, noting that Minnesota’s now confirmed 40 cases of the U.K. strain here. “We want to make sure we’re not giving a foothold to these variants.”

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told MPR News on Thursday that the variants are very concerning and it’s unclear whether they evade immunity from vaccination or natural protection.

South-central Minnesota

Freeborn County reported 10 new lab-confirmed cases on Friday, increasing its cumulative cases to 2,746. Of the total, 46 are considered active cases.

There were two new hospitalizations but no new deaths Friday. The county’s death total from the pandemic stands at 23.

The new cases were three people in their 70s; two each in their 30s, 40s and 60s; and one in their 20s.

The following is an update on other area counties:

• Faribault County: one new cases; 1,198 total cases

• Mower County: 11 new cases; 3,976 total cases

• Steele County: three new cases; 2,957 total cases

• Waseca County: five new case; 2,049 total cases

Minnesota reported eight more deaths — none in south-central Minnesota — caused by COVID-19 on Thursday, along with 1,001 new cases.