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Live updates: MDH recommends proactive COVID-19 testing for youth headed back to school

The latest updates on COVID-19 in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the vaccine rollout and the latest restrictions.

Thursday, Jan. 21

  • MDH launches new text, online survey program for initial COVID-19 case investigations
  • People ages 12-25 returning to school, sports and activities now encouraged to get tested proactively
  • Minnesota passes somber milestone of 6,000 COVID-19 deaths
  • All current appointments filled for COVID-19 vaccine pilot program, more to open up soon
  • Biden sets forth COVID-19 agenda, revives support for WHO
  • Executive order requires Americans to wear a mask for travel

2 p.m.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging young people returning to more social interaction to get tested for COVID-19.

Assistant MDH Commissioner Dan Huff said on Thursday's media briefing call that with students beginning to go back to school and some restrictions loosening around Minnesota, the department is updating its testing recommendations.

MDH is now recommending that young people returning to schools, youth sports and extra curricular activities get tested for COVID proactively - especially those between the ages of 12 and 25. That includes college students returning to campus and anyone who regularly interacts with people outside their household.

"The bottom line is, that's a lot of new folks engaging with people they had not been previously interacting with," Huff said. "These new recommendations are in addition to anyone who is experiencing COVID symptoms, anyone who has been exposed to someone who has tested positive, and anyone who is working at places that remain open during the pandemic."

Huff said that recommendation does apply to all young people going back to school, including those under age 12. However, he said, MDH focused on young people ages 12-25 because they tend to be more "active on their own."

"They may be doing more things without mom and dad," he said. "Therefore they're more social, and interacting with more people outside their household pod. ... Yes, it is important that all children get tested, but the reason we're focusing on that one age cohort is because of their social activity."

Huff said every school district is now required to offer COVID testing for their on-site staff every other week. The state provides the saliva test kits and training on how to administer them. Huff said school employees are not required to take the tests, but the schools are required to offer them. So far more than 17,000 school staff have been tested through this program, with a .36% positivity rate, Huff said.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann also spoke on the briefing call.

Malcolm reported Thursday that the rate of cases and deaths across the U.S. continues to be "relentless."

New cases in Minnesota have been fairly steady the last two days.

"Yesterday marked four weeks after the Christmas holiday and three weeks after the new year's holiday," Malcolm said. "Thankfully the evidence suggests that we've already seen our post-holiday spike and that it was a modest and manageable one."

Malcolm said Minnesota could still see some impact from new year's holiday gatherings.

The test positivity rate has dropped to 5.1% in Minnesota, Malcolm said. Hospital bed use continues to decline a bit, Malcolm reported, but that statistic is a "lagging figure" and could go up due to a bump in cases in recent days.

Malcolm acknowledged that Minnesota passed the 6,000-death milestone as of the new numbers reported Thursday.

Minnesota's vaccine dashboard shows that as of Sunday nearly 246,000 total doses have been administered, and almost 627,000 total doses have been allocated to Minnesota by the federal government. Almost 610,000 show in the CDC system as having been shipped to Minnesota, but Malcolm reminded the public that the tracking system is complex. The vaccines shipped to Minnesota include doses that are shipped for the CDC's federal pharmacy partnership program for vaccinations in long-term care. She said the number of doses fully delivered to Minnesota for the state to administer is closer to 300,000.

"While we continue to push for more vaccines from the federal government," Malcolm said, "we're busy building up the infrastructure in Minnesota so that we're ready to get out large amounts of the vaccine as soon as those become available from the federal government."

RELATED: Minnesota replaces COVID-19 case investigation phone calls with texts, online surveys

MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann gave more details on the department's Thursday announcement that new online survey to do the initial case investigation after someone tests positive for COVID-19.

Instead of receiving a phone call and being interviewed by a case investigator, people will receive a text message asking them to participate in a survey. Once they reply with their email address they'll be able to answer the initial questions about their case, about symptoms and testing dates, online. Anyone who does not reply to the text will still receive a phone call.

In response to a question about the limited availability of appointments through the state's new pilot vaccine program, Malcolm stressed that the community vaccination sites are meant to supplement other methods of distribution. She said that most people will be getting their vaccines from health care providers or pharmacies. Malcolm said the state wanted to set up the community sites to pave the way for more mass vaccination possibilities as the supply ramps up.

11 a.m.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported 1,292 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, and 32 more deaths from the virus.

According to MDH, 1,087 of those reported cases came from PCR tests, which are considered "confirmed." Another 205 came from antigen tests, considered "probable."

Testing numbers for the past 24-hour reporting period were more than double the previous one.

Thursday's reported death toll brings Minnesota's total fatalities since the pandemic began to 6,011, passing the somber milestone of 6,000 deaths for the first time.

Credit: KARE
COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota as of Jan. 21, 2021.

Community transmission with no known contact with a confirmed case continues to be the most common "likely exposure" source, with 97,304 of Minnesota's cases so far. The second most common source is known contact with a confirmed case, at 90,424 cases.

Minnesota's hospital capacity is greater in general than when demand was at its peak in November and early December. While ICU numbers are dropping, regular hospital bed use is rising.

ICU bed use due to the virus is the lowest it's been since September, with only 98 beds in use for COVID-19 patients. Regular beds, however, are being used for 460 COVID patients as of Jan. 20, the latest data available.

In the metro, 8.3% of staffed ICU beds are available, which is out of the red danger zone. Only 3.7% of staffed non-ICU beds are available in the metro, still low enough to remain in the red zone.

Credit: KARE
COVID-19 hospital bed use in Minnesota as of Jan. 20, 2021.

After launching online vaccine appointments for an expanded group of Minnesotans including adults over 65, educators and child care workers, MDH said appointments are full for this week.

However, people who are eligible are encouraged to "check back soon for more information about future appointments." MDH and Gov. Tim Walz have warned that there is a "very limited supply" of doses.

RELATED: MN officials: More than 10,000 COVID-19 vaccination appointments set up in new pilot program

RELATED: State website, phone lines to book COVID vaccine appointments struggle under load

According to MDH's publicly available vaccine data, as of Monday, 203,839 Minnesotans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 41,984 people have received both doses.

Walz has called on the federal government to buy more doses of the vaccine, and newly sworn-in President Joe Biden has a goal of distributing 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days in office.

RELATED: President Biden puts forth coronavirus strategy, requires mask use to travel

RELATED: Fauci: US revives support for WHO, agrees to global vaccine program

Wednesday, Jan. 20

11 a.m.

Both COVID-19 deaths and new cases of the virus registered an uptick Wednesday, according to numbers released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

An additional 34 Minnesotans have lost their lives to the virus, significantly more than the 6 reported Tuesday. The state's death toll now stands at 5,979 since the start of the pandemic. Of those deaths 3,810, or 64% of them, are tied to long-term care or assisted living settings. 

MDH recorded 1,237 new cases of COVID-19 over the past day, based on results from 18,393 tests (14,745 PCR, 3,648 antigen) processed in private and state labs. Testing volume remains low. 

The total of cases reported in the state now stands at 449,492.

The state vaccine dashboard says 200,840 people have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, while 38,521 have completed the two-dose series. Those numbers should begin going up more rapidly as Minnesota embarks on a new COVID-19 vaccine pilot program that will begin vaccinations across the state tomorrow. 

Minnesota health care providers have received 479,525 shipped doses of vaccine, with another 117,100 coming to the state as part of a federal long-term care vaccination program. As of Wednesday, 40.2% of the doses shipped to Minnesota have been used. 

The number of beds at hospitals across the state being used to care for COVID patients remains fairly steady, with 570 currently in use (111 for patients in ICU). Bed availability remains tightest in the Twin Cities metro, where just 3.3% of all non-ICU beds are currently available to patients. ICU beds are slightly better at 7.0%. Availability is also low in the southeastern part of the state. 

Total hospitalizations from the coronavirus now stand at 23,608, with 4,913 of those patients requiring care in the ICU.

MDH says 432,738 people who at one time tested positive for COVID no longer require isolation. 

The largest number of deaths from the virus involves those between ages 85 and 89, with 1,133 in 5,906 diagnosed cases. Young adults 20 to 24 account for the largest number of cases with 45,367 and three fatalities, followed by people 25 to 29 with 40,443 cases and six deaths. 

Hennepin County has recorded the most COVID activity with 93,303 cases and 1,483 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 40,134 and 741 deaths, Dakota County with 33,159 cases and 344 deaths, and Anoka County with 31,061 and 365 fatalities.

Cook County in northeastern Minnesota has the least COVID activity with 115 cases and zero deaths. 

10 a.m. 

State health officials announced Wednesday that all available appointments for a new COVID-19 vaccine pilot project have been filled for the week. 

The pilot is an attempt by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to get teachers, child care workers and Minnesotans 65 or older quicker access to vaccinations. The program launched Tuesday, and response was so overwhelming that a state website crashed and special phone lines set up to make appointments did not work for many. 

When things stabilized, MDH says 6,000 Minnesotans ages 65 and up were able to secure appointments for two doses of vaccine at one of nine pilot clinics set up across the state. Nearly 6,000 additional K-12 educators, school staff and child care employees reserved appointments for the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine series. 

Vaccinations will be administered Thursday, Jan. 21 through Saturday, Jan. 23. MDH asks people without appointments to not show up at clinic sites, as they will be turned away.

MDH spokesman Doug Schulz says all slots on the waiting list for appointments are also full for the week. More appointments are expected to become available as Minnesota receives more doses of vaccine in coming weeks.

RELATED: World leaders hope for renewed cooperation with US under Biden

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The state of Minnesota has set up a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.