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Live updates: Only 4.5% of Minnesota's long-term care facilities have had a recent COVID case

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

ST PAUL, Minn. — Thursday, March 25

  • MDH reports 1,857 new COVID cases, highest since Jan. 10, 16 new deaths
  • Officials: 89 fully vaccinated Minnesotans tested positive for COVID-19
  • 503 cases of B.1.1.7. variant identified in Minnesota, but health officials believe the variant could be responsible for half the state's cases
  • More than 26% of Minnesota's population vaccinated
  • 4.5% of Minnesota's long-term care facilities have had a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days

2 p.m.

Residents of long-term care facilities in Minnesota have been vaccinated at high rates so far, but staff are still lagging.

Minnesota state health officials and leaders in the long-term care industry held a briefing call Thursday to update the public on COVID-19 spread and vaccination progress.

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm began the call by speaking about the more than 1,800 new cases reported Thursday, the highest daily count since early January.

"We do have the potential for another spike in cases and the negative outcomes that flow from that," she said. "And that's why we keep reinforcing the importance of keeping up our vigilance."

Malcolm said the day's cases are a reminder "of how very seriously we have to take this pandemic going forward."

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said the federal government recently put out a reminder that people cannot be charged for their vaccine.

"We've been saying for months now that the COVID-19 vaccines are no cost to the people getting them, and this continues to be the case," she said.

Ehresmann said providers may seek reimbursement from insurance companies that cover the vaccine, or Medicare or Medicaid. For that reason, people may be asked to provide insurance information.

"But you should not receive any bills after that," Ehresmann said. "The provider may not seek any additional reimbursement."

She said Minnesotans aware of violations are encouraged to report them to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-HHS-TIPS.

Malcolm also spoke Thursday about vaccination progress at long-term care facilities in Minnesota, announcing "another bright milestone."

By the end of this week, Malcolm said, "pretty much all" residents and staff in the approximately 2,000 facilities across Minnesota will have had the opportunity to receive both vaccine doses.

"While we've reached 99% of those facilities, it's going to take a little bit of time to get that last 1%," she said, referencing logistical hurdles for some facilities.

Malcolm said not all residents and staff in long-term care have accepted a vaccine, and the numbers are significantly lower for staff than for residents. She said only 54% of staff at skilled nursing facilities and 45% of staff at assisted living facilities have taken the opportunity to be vaccinated.

"Those numbers are obviously not as high as we'd like them to be, or frankly as we need them to be," Malcolm said.

She said MDH has heard from some staff that they were likely to get a vaccine, but didn't want to be first. She said some people wanted to get more information, and "build up their own knowledge base and confidence in getting the vaccine."

"We understand that," Malcolm said. "Nobody needs to feel guilty or embarrassed to have questions about the vaccine. ... Our job in the weeks and months ahead, all of us collectively, especially as we get into a period where there's more vaccine available, is to make sure that our citizens have that information."

Lindsey Krueger, director of MDH's Office of Health Facility Complaints, provided some more detailed data on vaccinations in long-term care. She said all nursing homes in Minnesota have had the opportunity to have three vaccination clinics for staff and residents. Ninety-nine percent of assisted-living type facilities have had two clinics, and 54% of those have had an opportunity to have a third.

Only 62 nursing homes, 17% of all those in the state, have had a COVID case in the last 14 days. Thirty-one assisted living type facilities, or 2% of Minnesota's total, have had a case in the last 14 days. Overall, Krueger said, this means 4.5% of long-term care facilities in Minnesota have had a COVID case in the last 14 days.

Several long-term care leaders from around the state also spoke on the call.

Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of Leading Age Minnesota, said her residents and staff were among the first Minnesotans to be vaccinated.

"We do see it as our role and responsibility not only to encourage vaccination, but to share vaccination facts, to listen carefully to concerns ... to provide one-on-one support and reassurance to help build confidence in the vaccine," she said.

Kvenvold said Leading Age Minnesota is launching a peer-to-peer network where staff who have been vaccinated can help answer questions and encourage their coworkers who are hesitant.

"We believe that we will continue to see vaccinations rise with each respectful conversation that we are having," Kvenvold said.

Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, said her residents have had a high rate of acceptance of the vaccine.

"So many in our communities have been vaccinated against the virus," she said, allowing Care Providers of Minnesota to invite more visitors in with fewer restrictions "and with a great deal of joy."

Cullen said the efficacy of the virus is evident in both dropping cases, and fewer deaths in their facilities.

"We celebrated greatly the day we saw zero in our settings again," she said.

Cullen said their staff are beginning to gain confidence in the vaccine as well.

"We need to encourage staff to increase the safety of all in our facilities by getting a vaccine, and we are working hard on that," she said. "We know the willingness of long-term care staff continues to increase."

Fully vaccinated, asymptomatic health care workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 no longer have to quarantine for 14 days, Cullen said, which provides another incentive for staff to get the vaccine.

Matt McNeill, director of Senior Living for StuartCo, said more than 75% of their staff have been vaccinated and 100% of residents.

In late February, he said, there was a breakthrough case. As of this afternoon, they are back to zero positive cases.

"My hope is together we can tell more stories, meet with more team members one-on-one and understand vaccine hesitance," he said. "They have given so much of themselves to others in this last year. It is now our job to support them."

McNeill compared the current COVID-19 climate to the last leg of a marathon.

"We must stay strong," he said.

Ehresmann said she believes Minnesota's vaccine allocation will soon increase to 304,000 doses per week, but that has not yet come to fruition.

"It's definitely an increase in terms of what we have been receiving, and we are just eagerly waiting to get to that point," Ehresmann said.

She said the number of doses allocated to Minnesota this week, which will ship next week, are not yet showing that increase.

Malcolm said even as the state makes decisions to expand eligibility, providers can still determine their own priority levels within that.

"There is an important difference for folks to understand; your eligibility and your place in line," she said. 

Malcolm pointed out that the president has already said every adult should be eligible by May 1, and Gov. Tim Walz wants to be ahead of that goal.

"The good news is, there's going to be enough vaccine for everyone who wants to get it, and much sooner than we thought," Malcolm said. Still, she said, the state wants to continue prioritizing higher-risk residents.

Malcolm said overall MDH wants vaccinators to be able to be more flexible to "not slow down" and meet the specific needs in their communities.

Ehresmann said as of Thursday, 503 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been identified in Minnesota. 

"That does not represent the sum total of the circulation," she said. "In fact we think that probably over half of the cases in the state may be due to B.1.1.7. at this point." 

The testing for B.1.1.7. is limited, with only random samples being tested every week. 

11 a.m.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 1,857 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, the highest single-day total since Jan. 10, when the state reported 2,165 cases.

Deaths caused by the virus also jumped into the double digits Thursday to 16, up from nine deaths reported on Wednesday. This is the highest death count only since March 11, when the state reported 19 new deaths.

Credit: KARE 11

To date, 510,398 Minnesotans have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic started. Of those cases, 26,936 needed to be hospitalized and 5,536 needed care in the ICU.

The number of COVID cases involving young adults ages 20-24 crossed a grim milestone Wednesday of more than 50,000 cases. Then as of Thursday, the state reported 50,246 total cases in that age group.

People ages 25-29 follow with 45,415 cases and six deaths. Those between 85 and 89 years old account for the highest number of fatalities in one age group with 1,288 out of 6,450 diagnosed cases.

Hennepin County has had the most COVID activity in the state with 105,974 cases and 1,640 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 44,649 cases and 835 deaths, Anoka County with 34,868 cases and 405 deaths, and Dakota County with 38,523 cases and 408 deaths.

Credit: KARE 11

As of Tuesday, the most recent data reported by MDH, nearly 1.5 million Minnesotans had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. According to the state vaccine dashboard, 1,475,130 people have gotten at least one shot - that's 26.5% of the population. Of those, 878,469 people have had the whole vaccine series.

According to the department of health, 89 fully vaccinated Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19. However, officials say these so-called "breakthrough cases" shouldn't be alarming to people. Nearly 880,000 Minnesotans have received a COVID vaccine, making the number of fully vaccinated people who've been infected with the virus a fraction of a percent.

"No vaccine gives an entire population 100% protection, as with any vaccination program," said Dr. Hannah Lichtsinn, and Internal Medicine Doctor with Hennepin Healthcare.

Credit: KARE 11

Wednesday, March 24

Both hospitalizations related to COVID-19 and new cases of the virus are trending upwards, according to data released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health. 

As of Tuesday, 332 people were hospitalized with COVID, 93 of them with symptoms severe enough to require treatment in the ICU. That is the highest number since January 28, when 95 patients were receiving ICU care. 

Total hospitalizations have climbed to 26,859 since the pandemic arrived in Minnesota. 

MDH says 1,323 new cases were reported in the past day, up from 870 one day earlier. State health officials have said they are worried about a resurgence in both cases and hospitalizations, and on Tuesday talked about spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.

Nine more people have died from COVID, bringing fatalities in the state to 6,798. 

Minnesota is on the cusp of having 1.5 million people at least partially vaccinated. As of Tuesday (the most recent data available) 1,454,834 people had received at least one vaccination, 26.2% of Minnesota's 5.6 million residents. The number of people vaccinated goes up significantly as the week progresses, and it is likely the state will reach 1.5 million in the next few days. 

 MDH says 862,955 people have completed the two-shot series and are considered fully vaccinated.

The number of COVID cases involving young adults 20 to 24 has crossed a dubious milestone: Health officials report 50,061 infections in that demographic, and four deaths. The largest group of fatalities is among those 85 to 89, with 1,285 deaths in just 6,448 diagnosed cases.

Minnesota's four most-populated counties have reported the most COVID activity. Hennepin County has recorded 105,561 cases and 1,638 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 44,526 cases and 835 deaths, Dakota County with 38,352 cases and 406 deaths, and Anoka County with 34,745 cases and 405 deaths.

Cook County, the sixth-least populated county in the state, reports 135 cases and zero deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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