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Live updates: Minnesota moves past 600,000 COVID cases

Here are the latest developments in the battle against COVID-19 in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the effort to vaccinate every resident.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Thursday, May 27  

  • Gov. Walz to announce vaccine incentives Thursday
  • State Fairgrounds vaccination site begins Johnson & Johnson vaccinations; walk-in appointments available until June 8
  • MDH reports 4th consecutive day of new cases under 500
  • Moderna says COVID vaccine is safe, effective for kids 12-17
  • White House: U.S. to reach 50% of adults fully vaccinated on Tuesday

The state of Minnesota has passed another dubious milestone in the battle against COVID-19, moving past the 600,000 case mark since the pandemic began. 

Data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows 505 new infections were reported in the last day, bringing total cases to 600,408. Of those cases 43,218 were identified by antigen tests. Health officials consider a positive antigen test a probable COVID case, while a positive PCR test is considered a confirmed case. 

The new cases are based on 26,012 tests (21,064 PCR, 4,948 antigen) processed in private and state labs. That is a moderate testing volume for late-week reporting. 

Ten more Minnesotans have lost their lives to COVID, pushing total fatalities over the 7,400 mark (7,403). Of those, 4,424 (60%) are linked to assisted living or long-term care settings. 

Credit: KARE

Daily hospitalizations due to the virus continue to dip, with 334 people being treated for COVID in Minnesota hospitals as of Wednesday. MDH says just 80 of those patients are in ICU, the lowest level since 78 were reported on March 21. Total hospitalizations have climbed to nearly 32,000 since the pandemic began (31,992). 

MDH says 588,096 people who tested positive have improved to the point they no longer require isolation. 

Governor Walz will again attempt to jump-start vaccination numbers that are sputtering a bit, by introducing incentives for people to get immunized against COVID. He will detail the plan Thursday afternoon, but a spokesman says state fair tickets, fishing licenses and state park passes are among the incentives being dangled. 

Credit: KARE

As of Tuesday (the most recent vaccine numbers available), nearly 58% of Minnesotans age 16+ have completed their COVID shot series and are considered fully vaccinated. That's 2,543,044 Minnesotans. The vaccine dashboard says 2,885,499 people have received at least one dose, 63.9% of those eligible. The Walz administration wants to get that number to 70% by July 1, to meet a goal set by President Joe Biden. 

Credit: KARE

In the Twin Cities metro, Hennepin and Ramsey County report more than 70% of age 16+ residents have been immunized at least once, with six others (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott, Washington and Wright) reporting a rate of between 50 and 70%. Sherburne County is lagging with a vaccination rate of less than 50%.  

Credit: KARE

Wednesday, May 26

2 p.m. 

Minnesota Department of Health officials spoke about the state's vaccination progress ahead of Memorial Day weekend in a regular COVID-19 briefing call. 

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann highlighted the State Fair vaccination site, which began Johnson & Johnson vaccinations Wednesday. Walk-in appointments are available until June 8. 

"The more people get vaccinated, the more we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and do more of the things we love," Ehresmann said. 

In recent weeks, state officials have considered new incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated. Ehresmann said there's no details on specifics at this point, but that incentives are regularly used in public health programs. Asked about the ethics of the idea, Ehresmann said such incentives should be large enough to encourage individuals, but small enough not to step over the line into coercion. 

"It gives people that nudge that is not significant enough to cause ethical concerns," she said. 

Ehresmann said the state is seeing slower vaccination progress as more people get their shots, but it's still "something to celebrate." She added that Minnesota is ahead of schedule for vaccination goals set by President Joe Biden. She said the state is still moving forward, just more slowly due to targeted goals. 

Officials were asked for ways to reduce COVID-19 spread during Memorial Day weekend. Ehresmann said if you aren't vaccinated, you should keep masking and social distancing in mind. She added that people who aren't vaccinated should be mindful of the risks in different settings, like large indoor gatherings. 

"It's never wrong to mask, and even as the mask mandate has been lifted... there are many people who will continue masking, perhaps for underlying health conditions or other concerns," Ehresmann said. 

Vaccine Equity Director Nathan Chomilo was asked about differing rates of vaccination between older and younger populations in communities of color. He said part of it is that younger people simply haven't been eligible for the vaccination for as long. He said other barriers are involved, too. For example, people may not have time to get the vaccine, or are worried about experiencing side effects that cause them to miss work. 

Ehresmann was asked about a lawsuit against the FDA alleging that it is unethical to give children a vaccine that only has emergency authorization rather than full approval. She said the vaccine was originally approved for adults, and was only authorized with children after being evaluated as meeting safety expectations for them. 

"I would feel very comfortable having my kids vaccinated," Ehresmann said. She said the process to authorize the vaccine for kids has been "very thoughtful."

You can watch the full call below.

11 a.m.

New cases of COVID-19 remained under the 500 mark for the fourth consecutive day, according to data released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

MDH recorded 438 new infections in the last day, bringing the state to a total of 599,909 cases since the pandemic began. Those cases are based on results from 18,984 tests (13,990 PCR, 4,994 antigen) processed in private and state labs. A positive PCR test is considered a confirmed COVID case, while a positive antigen test is considered probable. 

Credit: KARE

Another 12 Minnesotans have lost their lives to COVID, the second consecutive day of double-digit deaths after zero were reported Monday. That brings total fatalities to 7,393, of which 60% (4,422) are tied to long-term care or assisted living facilities.

The state vaccine dashboard is now reporting vaccinations among those ages 12 to 15 as Minnesota turns its attention to young people. As of Monday 62,595 doses had been administered to this age group. State health officials say 57.2% of eligible residents have completed their COVID shot series and are considered fully vaccinated (2,524,113 people), while 63.7% have received at least one dose (2,871,544 people). 

Credit: KARE

Overall, 5,181,371 total doses of vaccine have been administered to Minnesotans, 54.9% which were Pfizer, 40.6% Moderna, and 4.5% Johnson & Johnson. 

On Wednesday the Walz administration announced that the community vaccination site at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds will begin administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine immediately on a walk-in basis, and will continue through June 8. The hope is that the convenience of requiring only a single shot to become fully vaccinated will be a draw to those who are hesitant about getting immunized against COVID. 

“The vaccine is safe, it’s free, and most importantly, it works,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan in a released statement. “Now, it’s easier than ever for Minnesotans to access their vaccine at State Fairgrounds – no appointment, payment, insurance, or ID required.“

Daily hospitalizations are slowly trending down, with 364 people being treated across the state on an inpatient basis as of Tuesday. Of those patients, 90 have symptoms serious enough to require ICU care. Total hospitalizations are now at 31,947.

Credit: KARE

COVID activity is highest in Minnesota's population centers, with Hennepin County reporting 123,944 cases and 1,749 deaths, Ramsey County 52,049 cases and 887 deaths, Dakota County 46,460 cases and 461 deaths, and Anoka County 42,378 cases and 447 fatalities. 

Cook County has noted the least COVID activity with 168 cases and zero deaths. 

Young adults ages 20 to 24 are linked to the largest group of cases with 57,974 cases and four deaths. The virus has had the deadliest impact on those ages 85 to 89, with 1,338 fatalities in just 6,742 diagnosed cases.

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