Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from Allina Health clinic nurse Rachel Slama last month.

Minnesota’s newest COVID-19 data delivers more doses of good news and worry.

Active cases are trending now at levels not seen since late December. Hospitalizations and intensive needs are climbing. But the vaccination effort continues apace and the anticipated jump in vaccine shipments has begun.

Wednesday’s Health Department data showed more than 1.2 million Minnesotans fully inoculated while nearly 1.9 million have received at least one dose, including about 83 percent of residents age 65 and older.

The agency reported about 49,000 more vaccinations. Minnesota appears to be on track to have 50 percent of adults vaccinated in a little less than two weeks.

Officials have repeatedly described the current situation as a race against time to vaccinate as many Minnesotans as possible before the COVID-19 variants can get a stronger foothold in the state.

To help win that race, state and federal officials on Monday unveiled plans to vaccinate as many as 100,000 Minnesotans over the next eight weeks at a site to be built at the state fairgrounds. The site will prioritize underserved communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

“We’re definitely not out of the woods yet,” Malcolm told reporters Tuesday, noting that the seven-day positive test rate for the disease is back up at 6 percent. A 5 percent rate is a warning sign of growing spread.

Thanks to vaccinations, Minnesota likely won’t see as severe a spike in cases this spring as it saw in November and December, but the pandemic isn’t over, Malcolm said.

Hospitalizations climbing, skewing younger

Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 numbers reinforce Malcolm’s cautionary view.

Hospitalizations, for instance, have climbed significantly in the past few weeks. The most recent agency data show 538 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals; 138 needed intensive care. These are levels not seen since January.

COVID-19 hospital bed use is up by 40 percent since late March, and the percentage of new cases requiring a hospital stay is growing, Malcolm noted.

The age of those needing hospitalization has been skewing younger.

The average age of people hospitalized during the pandemic is 65, but it was 57 years old from March 23 to 29, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist, said Tuesday.

The median age for deaths is 83 years old through the pandemic, but in March it was 78, she noted.

The number of known, active cases has been trending upward over the past few weeks, with about 16,000 active cases as of Wednesday’s report — marking nearly three weeks with active counts above 10,000.

While still low compared to late November and early December, the rising trend is notable given the worries over the rise of the highly contagious U.K. COVID-19 variant, which state health officials suspect is driving the current upswing.

They’d confirmed about 1,000 cases in the state of the U.K. strain as of last week and believe it’s responsible for the majority of the spread that happening now.

Nineteen deaths reported on Wednesday raised Minnesota’s overall pandemic death toll to 6,908. Among those who’ve died, about 62 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The state has recorded 532,658 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 2.004 posted Wednesday. About 96 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

Regional hot spots bubble

Regionally, all parts of Minnesota are in better shape than they were in late November and early December. The latest numbers, however, show cases creeping up in almost every region of the state.

Public health leaders continue to keep watch on clusters in the southwest Twin Cities metro area as well as Mankato in southern Minnesota and around Aurora and Ely in the northeast. Central Minnesota is also seeing a rise in positive COVID-19 cases.

Cases spread across age groups

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 99,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 52,000 among those ages 20 to 24.

The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 42,000 total cases among those ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.

With kids increasingly returning to school buildings and sports, Minnesota public health officials are urging Minnesota families with children to get tested every two weeks for COVID-19 until the end of the school year.

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 coronavirus can spread it when they don’t have symptoms.

Caseloads among people of color

In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths. That’s been especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent for much of the pandemic.

Even as new case counts continue to track well below their late November, early December peaks, the data shows Latino people continue to be hit hard.

Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, officials say, especially among unauthorized immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.

Officials have acknowledged that distrust by communities of color has been a problem during the pandemic. They’ve offered up some data on vaccinations broken down by race and ethnicity that they’re updating regularly.

This story originally appeared at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2021/04/07/latest-on-covid19-in-mn of story Questions or requests? Contact MPR News editor Meg Martin at newspartners@mpr.org © 2020 Minnesota Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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