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Live updates: Minnesota reaches milestones in COVID cases, vaccinations

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

ST PAUL, Minn. — Thursday, March 18   

  • Minnesota hits milestones of 2 million vaccines, 500,000 COVID cases
  • 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

11 a.m. 

Data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows the state has reached two significant COVID milestones. One of them is a measurement of how hard the virus has hit the state, the other is a testament to efforts to find a way out of the pandemic. 

MDH says 1,505 new cases recorded in the last day push Minnesota's total infections past the half-million mark (501,458 total cases). The new infections are based on results from 42,954 tests (35,928 PCR, 7,026 antigen) processed in private and state labs. 

Credit: KARE

State health officials expressed worry during a call with reporters Wednesday that despite optimism on the COVID front, cases and COVID-related hospitalizations are both trending up, and the numbers released Thursday bear that out. New case numbers have not been this high since Jan. 23, when 1,565 were reported, and hospitalizations were at 297, after dipping down into the lower 200s in early March. 

Total hospitalizations are at 26,520, with 5,463 of those patients requiring care in the ICU. Of those who have tested positive for the virus, 485,358 no longer require isolation. 

Six more Minnesotans have died from the virus, bringing total fatalities to 6,762 since the pandemic arrived. 

The second milestone is more positive, with the state crossing the threshold of 2 million COVID-19 vaccinations given. The state vaccine dashboard reflects that as of Tuesday 2,023,574 immunizations have been administered, with 1,303,210 Minnesotans having received at least one dose. That's 23.4% of the state's 5.6 million residents.

Credit: KARE

MDH says 764,275 people have completed the two-shot sequence. 

Young adults ages 20 to 24 are included in the state's largest group of cases with 49,450 and three deaths, followed by 25 to 29-year-olds with 44,657 cases a nd six fatalities. People ages 85 to 89 have suffered the most deaths, with 1,282 in 6,418 diagnosed cases. 

COVID data reflects that the state's four largest counties have also had the most coronavirus activity. Hennepin County reports 104,017 cases and 1,629 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 44,064 cases and 831 deaths, Dakota County with 37,734 cases and 402 deaths, and Anoka County with 34,292 cases and 403 fatalities. 

Cook County has seen the fewest COVID cases with 133 since the start of the pandemic. 

 

Credit: KARE

9 a.m.

Governor Tim Walz announced Thursday that Minnesota has officially administered more than 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses to residents across the state.

According to the most recent statewide vaccine data, more than 1.3 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 764,275 are fully vaccinated. Nearly 77% of adults 65 and older, one of the state's first vaccine priority groups, have also received at least one dose.

The milestone number comes as Minnesota prepares to surpass half a million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state. Updated daily case and death numbers will be reported by the Minnesota Department of Health at 11 a.m.

“Hope is on the horizon as more than two million doses of life-saving vaccines have gone into the arms of our loved ones in Minnesota,” said Governor Walz in a statement. Walz is currently in quarantine after coming in contact with a COVID-positive staff member.

RELATED: Minnesota administers 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

Wednesday, March 17

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.  

RELATED: New state guidance expands long-term care visits for families and residents

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.

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.

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.