Here is the latest on COVID-19 vaccination efforts and availability, case rates and deaths in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
ST PAUL, Minn. — Tuesday, March 9
- Walz expands COVID vaccinations to 1.8 million Minnesotans starting Wednesday
- Pop-up COVID testing site to open in Carver County following outbreak involving sports, young athletes
- CDC says people vaccinated with both doses can socialize with other vaccinated people with no masks
- COVID-19 variants found in 15 Minnesota counties, including all seven metro counties
- Strain of COVID-19 originally found in South Africa detected in Wisconsin
Health officials gave an update about Minnesota’s COVID-19 situation, which you can listen to below.
Today’s update follows an announcement by Gov. Walz that vaccine eligibility will be expanded to 1.8 million more Minnesotans starting Wednesday. That group is made up of two tiers on MDH’s vaccination plan, Phase 1b Tier 2 and Phase 1b Tier 3.
MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said providers have been told to prioritize those included in Tier 2, which includes those with specific underlying health conditions, food processing plant workers, and Minnesotans with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe illness.
Officials, including Gov. Tim Walz, have also emphasized that people 65 and older who haven’t been vaccinated yet are still the “top priority”.
Tier 3 will be eligible at the same time, but the people included in this group were asked to sign up for Minnesota’s Vaccine Connector tool and wait for information from the website, or to be contacted by their health care providers or (in some cases) employers.
Tier 3 includes people age 45 and older with one or more underlying health conditions, people age 16-45 with two or more underlying health conditions, people 50 and older in multi-generational housing, and a specific set of frontline workers (Agricultural, airport staff, additional child care workers not previously eligible, correctional settings, first responders, food production, food retail, food service, judicial system workers, manufacturing, public health workers, public transit, and U.S. Postal Service workers).
MORE INFORMATION: Walz to open COVID-19 vaccinations to new groups
Malcolm was asked about a backlog of cases and deaths reported today, which health officials earlier said were found in an MDH audit of “unverified possible COVID-19 case reports.” The audit found that four private laboratories had failed to report lab results as required by the state.
Malcolm said there is no evidence that the laboratories had intentionally done so, and that MDH is taking steps to prevent similar situations in the future. As MDH is conducting an investigation, Malcolm said the names of the laboratories will not be released yet.
Data released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is jarring at first glance, but department officials explain that high COVID case numbers and deaths reported Tuesday include a significant backlog dating back months.
MDH recorded 1,641 new cases along with 140 deaths, but explained that an audit by department epidemiologists of “unverified possible COVID-19 case reports” identified 891 cases and 138 deaths that were previously unreported by private labs in violation of a state rule.
“An MDH data audit found that four private laboratories had failed to report COVID-19 lab results to MDH as required by state rules. We followed up with these labs and directed them to provide the missing results. The labs have now completed this step,” explained MDH spokesman Doug Schultz. “MDH has opened an administrative enforcement action to investigate a failure to report case data by these four private labs.”
While these cases and deaths occurred over the course of the last year, deaths will appear in records as a one-day spike because deaths are represented by the date reported. Cases will eventually be added appropriate date in the “Positive cases by date specimen collected” data table.
What that means is if the cases uncovered by the audit are not included, Tuesday’s numbers reflect 750 new cases and two deaths recorded in the past 24 hours.
Total cases in the state are now up to 492,108, with 25,096 of those being recorded by antigen tests. Health officials consider a positive antigen test a probable COVID case, while a positive PCR test is considered a confirmed case. Total deaths now stand at 6,696 since the beginning of the pandemic.
As of Monday, March 8, 231 people were being treated for COVID-19 at hospitals across Minnesota, with 50 of those patients requiring ICU care. Bed availability in the Twin Cities metro continues to approve, with the vacancy rate for non-ICU beds up to 5% (185 beds). Total hospitalizations have climbed to 26,079.
MDH says 478,422 people who at one time tested positive for coronavirus no longer require isolation.
Young adults 20 to 24 make up the largest single grouping of COVID cases with 48,786 and three deaths, while people from 85 to 89-years-old have suffered the most fatalities with 1,273 deaths in 6,384 diagnosed cases.
The state vaccination effort continues to gain momentum, with 1,086,936 people having received at least one dose as of Sunday. That’s 19.5% of Minnesota’s population. Of those people 602,623 have completed the two-shot sequence, 10.8%. On Sunday just 6,581 people received immunizations, but that number ramps up significantly as the week proceeds and vaccination appointment are set.
On Tuesday Gov. Tim Walz announced that the state has reached its goal of having 70% of Minnesotans ages 65 or older vaccinated with at least one dose. Vaccines will now be available to 1.8 million people included in the next two vaccination phases.
RELATED: Walz to open COVID-19 vaccinations to new groups
The Minnesota Department of Health says the outbreak in Carver County is growing. Commissioner Jan Malcom says from Feb. 24 to March 4, there was a 62% increase in cases there, particularly in school and club activities and gyms.
“We have done very careful epidemiological analysis of the clusters in Carver County and believe we have a high degree of certainty about the linkage between cases,” said Malcolm.
MDH says several public and private schools have confirmed cases of the variant strain from the United Kingdom linked to several sports including hockey, wrestling, basketball and alpine skiing.
Last Friday it recommended a county-wide pause on sports that starts today and lasts for two weeks. Some games were canceled over the weekend. On its website, Eastern Carver County Schools says varsity teams will continue to play, along with having additional mitigation measures and spectator restrictions.
The Chaska-Chanhassen Hockey Association is also allowing its athletes to play.
“Just really need people to be aware that this is an elevated risk situation and they should take individual precautions, if not a community decision, to suspend these activities,” said Malcolm.
MDH also wants teams to avoid dinners, parties and sleepovers and to get tested. There will be a new, temporary testing site opening Thursday at the Chanhassen Recreation Center.
“People can take control of this situation by getting tested, masking, and limiting social interactions,” said Dan Huff, MDH assistant commissioner for health protection.
Testing at this site will occur Thursday, March 11 through Saturday, March 13, and Thursday, March 18 through Saturday, March 20. Appointments are encouraged but not required and it’s free.
During a regular call with reporters MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann addressed the CDC’s new guidance that fully-vaccinated people can visit with other fully-vaccinated people without wearing masks or social distancing.
She said the new guidance is based in science and is a “step forward,” and that health officials will take it into consideration over the next few days.
Ehresmann said COVID-19 variants are still a significant concern for health officials. Variants have been found in 15 Minnesota counties, including each county in the Twin Cities metro. She said even as the vaccination effort continues, Minnesotans need to keep variants in mind and follow mitigation efforts.
A large number of vaccinations late last week is pushing Minnesota closer to having 20% of the total population vaccinated with at least one dose.
Numbers posted on the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) vaccination dashboard indicate that as of Saturday 1,072,260 people, or 19.3% of the state’s 5.6 million residents, have received at least one immunization. Of those people, 592,134 have completed the two-shot series.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week were big for vaccinations, with 51,140 (Wednesday), 65,593 (Thursday) and 53,416 (Friday) people receiving vaccine.
MDH says 473 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the past day, based on results from 36,485 tests (35,677 PCR, 808 antigen) processed in private and state labs. That testing volume is actually somewhat high for a Monday.
Health officials consider a positive PCR test a confirmed COVID case, while a positive antigen test is considered a probable case.
Six more deaths from COVID were reported in the last day, bringing total fatalities to 6,556 since the pandemic began. Total hospitalizations are now up to 25,982, and of those patients 5,364 have shown symptoms serious enough to require treatment in the ICU.
As of Sunday 223 people were being treated at hospitals across the state, with 46 patients in the ICU. In the Twin Cities metro bed availability is improving, with 149 non-ICU beds open for patients (4.0%).
State health officials say 476,856 people who at one time tested positive for the virus no longer require isolation.
People between the ages of 20 and 24 comprise Minnesota’s largest group of coronavirus cases with 48,692 and three deaths, followed by those 25 to 29 with 43,762 cases and six deaths. The demographic that includes 85 to 89-year-olds has suffered the most fatalities, with 1,238 in 6,265 diagnosed cases.
Hennepin County has documented the most COVID activity with 101,776 cases and 1,593 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 43,406 cases and 812 deaths, Dakota County with 36,754 cases and 395 deaths, and Anoka County with 33,583 cases and 393 deaths.
Cook County in northeastern Minnesota continues to report the least COVID cases with just 119 since the start of the pandemic.
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The state of Minnesota has set up a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.