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Live updates: Gov. Walz, other officials in quarantine after potential COVID exposure

Here is the latest on COVID-19 vaccination efforts and availability, case rates and deaths in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Wednesday, March 17 

  • Gov. Walz, Lt. Gov. Flanagan, MDH Commissioner Malcolm in quarantine after potential COVID exposure
  • MDH loosens outing and visitation guidelines for vaccinated long-term care residents
  • New community vaccination site to open in St. Cloud
  • Moderna begins trial to test vaccine on kids ages 6 months to 12 years old
  • Minnesota likely to hit half-million COVID cases this week
  • Minnesota adds CVS, Goodrich Pharmacy to Federal Retail Pharmacy Program network
  • Walz rolls back COVID restrictions, increases capacity at bars and restaurants, businesses, large venues

2 p.m.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health gave an update on the state's COVID-19 situation. They also gave details on a potential COVID-19 exposure that is resulting in a quarantine period for Gov. Tim Walz, Lieutenant Gov. Peggy Flanagan and MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. 

Asked whether Gov. Walz and top health officials should have gotten vaccinated earlier to avoid situations like the current quarantine, Malcolm said they thought it was appropriate to wait until they were eligible under guidelines for other Minnesota citizens. 

Malcolm was also asked if the governor now plans to receive his vaccination early. She said she was comfortable with whatever decision Walz makes, but that she respects his choice to be a "role model" of the patience officials are asking for.  

Also on the call, MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said she had "good news" and "bad news". She said MDH expects to report half a million cumulative COVID-19 cases in the state tomorrow, but also expects to report 2 million vaccine doses administered. 

Ehresmann said the juxtaposition is appropriate for Minnesota's current "in-between" situation: while more and more people are getting vaccinated, COVID-19 variants are still circulating in many counties. 

She said while it's difficult to determine what percentage variants make up of Minnesota's COVID-19 cases, health officials are seeing an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 tests that turn out to be from variants.

The race against variants is largely based on how quickly people are vaccinated. MDH said the vaccine supply is increasing. It received 12,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week - the most in several weeks. It expects that number to jump to 100,000 by April. 

MDH also reiterated anyone who wants a vaccine should be able to get one by May 1 - which was President Biden's latest goal.

Malcolm says the state is on track to finish vaccinating the current eligible group in a couple of weeks. That group includes food plant employees and people with an underlying medical condition.

You can watch the full update below. 

Noon:

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on Wednesday released updated guidance for long-term health care facilities involving visitations and non-medical outings. 

That guidance impacts facilities that include nursing homes and assisted-living sites. "This is an important next step for the overall health and well-being of our long-term care residents," reads a release distributed by MDH. "Minnesota’s focus on vaccinating our long-term care residents now allows these residents who are vaccinated to travel and go out for activities, visits and worship without having to quarantine upon returning home."

Among the state recommendations for outings:

  • Residents who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after non-medically necessary outings unless they spend 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period within 6 feet of someone who can spread COVID-19. An MDH spokesperson later clarified that this refers to "a person who has COVID or who had a high risk exposure."
  • Residents who are fully vaccinated may gather indoors or outdoors with other people who are fully vaccinated.
  • If the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with the people they are visiting.

Among the new recommendations for facility visits: 

  • If a resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor while wearing a well-fitted face mask and performing hand hygiene before and after.
  • Outdoor visitation is preferred even when the resident and visitor are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, because outdoor visits generally pose a lower risk of spreading the disease.  
  • Compassionate care visits, essential caregivers, and visits required under state and federal disability rights laws should be allowed at all times, regardless of a resident’s vaccination status, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak.

READ THE FULL LIST HERE: New MDH guidelines: vaccinated long-term care residents can go on some outings without quarantine

“Residents of long-term care facilities need the opportunity to see and spend time with their friends and loved ones as much as possible," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm in a released statement. "As we continue to make progress in the effort to defeat COVID-19 it’s great to take steps like this to ensure residents have those connections and support."

11 a.m. 

New COVID-19 cases in Minnesota inched up over the 1,000 mark on Wednesday, according to data shared by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

Testing labs reported 1,046 new cases of the virus based on 21,047 tests (16,602 PCR, 4,445 antigen) processed in private and state labs. Health officials consider a positive PCR test a confirmed COVID case, while a positive antigen case is considered a probable case. 

Minnesota's total COVID cases have now climbed to 499,962 since the start of the pandemic, making it likely the state will reach the half-million case mark on Thursday. 

Credit: KARE

Seven more people have died from the virus, pushing fatalities to 6,756.

The state vaccination dashboard says 1,284,612 state residents have received at least one immunization as of Monday, 23.1% of Minnesota's population of 5.6 million. Of those people 746,829 people have completed the two-shot series, and are considered fully vaccinated. 

On Monday 17,763 people across the state received a dose of vaccine, and those numbers have been trending much higher as the week evolves. 

Hospitalization numbers have been trending up slightly in recent days, with 282 people being treated for COVID in hospitals across the state as of Tuesday. Of those patients 67 are currently being cared for in ICU. Bed availability is currently down in the Twin Cities metro, with just 3.2% of non-ICU beds being vacant (119 beds). 

Since the pandemic began 26,459 people have been hospitalized with coronavirus. MDH says 484,819 people who at one time tested positive for COVID no longer require isolation. 

Young adults ages 20 to 24 are tied to the largest group of cases with 49,353 and three deaths, followed by 25 to 29-year-olds with 44,519 cases and six fatalities. 

People between 85 and 89 have suffered the most COVID deaths, with 1,282 in just 6,419 diagnosed cases. 

RELATED: Mall of America offering 'staycation' options for Spring Break

Tuesday, March 16

4:30 p.m.

Gov. Walz announced another community vaccination site at River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. 

According to a release from the governor's office, the new "large-scale, permanent" site will launch this week, joining similar sites in Minneapolis, Duluth, Rochester, Bloomington and St. Paul. 

Once it launches, the new site will offer vaccines to all groups that are currently eligible in Minnesota. That includes the newly-eligible Phase 1B groups, which include some essential workers, people with specific underlying conditions, and assorted other high-risk groups. 

MORE INFORMATION: Walz to open COVID-19 vaccinations to new groups

Previously, River’s Edge Convention Center was a pop-up location in the state’s Vaccine Pilot Program. Walz said about 4,800 doses of the vaccine were administered there between Jan. 21 and Feb. 22.

Walz urged Minnesotans to sign up for the state's Vaccine Connector tool. According to the release, Minnesotans will be contacted directly if they're selected for vaccine appointments.

RELATED: Sign up for Minnesota Vaccine Connector, be notified when you're eligible

RELATED: How to get a COVID-19 vaccine at your primary health care provider

11 a.m. 

Data released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) show both the number of new COVID cases and deaths remain steady as the state moves to reopen, albeit in a new normal. 

MDH says 716 new cases of the virus were recorded in the past day, based on a low volume of 11,834 tests (10,662 PCR, 1,172 antigen) processed in private and state labs. A positive PCR test is considered a confirmed case, while a positive antigen test is looked at as a probable case. 

Minnesota has now reported 498,926 COVID cases, making it likely the state will reach the half-million mark by the end of the week. 

Two additional deaths are attributed to coronavirus, bringing fatalities to 6,749 since the start of the pandemic. Of those deaths 4,241, or 63% of them are associated with long-term care or assisted living facilities.

Credit: KARE

Total hospitalizations due to COVID have risen to 26,402, with 5,443 of those patients needing care in the ICU. Of those diagnosed with the virus, 483,942 have improved to the point they no longer need to isolate. 

The state vaccine dashboard says 1,265,430 residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, 22.7% of Minnesota's population of 5.6 million. Of those people, 729,294 have completed the two-shot series. As of Sunday 75.7% of those 65 and older have been vaccinated at least once.

Credit: KARE

When it comes to counties, Cook County in northeastern Minnesota leads the state in percentage of residents vaccinated with 46.5%. 

The largest grouping of COVID cases in Minnesota involves young adults ages 20 to 24, with 49,260 cases and three deaths, followed by those 24 to 29 with 44,428 cases and six deaths. the largest number of deaths (1,281) have occurred in people between 85 and 89.

Minnesota's four most populous counties also have the most COVID activity. Hennepin County has recorded 103,502 cases and 1,627 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 43,924 cases and 829 deaths, Dakota County with 37,494 cases and 401 deaths, and Anoka County with 34,127 and 403 fatalities.

Credit: KARE

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, and kare11.com/vaccine for answers to all of your questions about vaccines. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

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