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The daily coronavirus update: 65 more deaths; Minnesota to receive first shipment of Moderna vaccine as soon as next week

Minnesota has reported fewer than 3,000 new cases for four days in a row. 

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

MinnPost provides updates on coronavirus in Minnesota Sunday through Friday. The information is published following a press phone call with members of the Walz administration or after the release of daily COVID-19 figures by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Here are the latest updates from December 18, 2020:

391,889 cases; 4,723 deaths

Sixty-five more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, for a total of 4,723.

Of the people whose deaths were announced Friday, 15 were in their 90s, 26 were in their 80s, 14 were in their 70s, five were in their 60s, two were in their 50s and three were in their 40s. Thirty-five of the 65 people whose deaths announced Friday were residents of long-term care facilities.

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There have been 1,130 deaths reported in December, just behind the one-month record of 1,136 in November. Nearly half of all Minnesota deaths in the pandemic have come since November.

In the week between Dec. 11 and Dec. 17, there were 211 deaths reported in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area and 249 deaths reported in greater Minnesota, continuing a months-long trend of more residents outside the metro dying of COVID-19. 

MDH also said Friday there have been 391,889 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. That number is up 2,718 from the total announced on Thursday and is based on 63,994 new tests. The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is 9.7 percent. That positivity rate has declined lately after peaking at 15.5 percent, and is now below a 10 percent “high-risk” threshold, said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. But state officials still say a rate above 5 percent is a concerning sign of COVID-19 spread.

Malcolm said Minnesota has reported fewer than 3,000 new cases for four days in a row and has a declining case rate of 63 new cases each day per 100,000 people. While that’s about half of the rate during a November peak, Malcolm said it’s far above a “national risk threshold” of 10 new cases each day per 100,000 people. “These are positive signs but again there’s still a lot of virus circulating in our communities,” Malcolm said. 

The most recent data available show 270 Minnesotans are hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, and 874 are in the hospital with COVID-19 not in intensive care. Hospitalizations have also declined this week. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

Minnesota expects to get nearly 95,000 doses of Moderna vaccine soon

Kris Ehresmann, MDH’s infectious disease director, said Minnesota expects to receive 94,900 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in a shipment as soon as next week if the vaccine is approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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The Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is reviewing the Moderna vaccine and is expected to make a recommendation on its use this weekend, Ehresmann said, adding she believes the FDA will make a decision on whether to issue an emergency-use authorization soon.

An FDA advisory panel gave a thumbs-up to the Moderna vaccine on Thursday, and Ehresmann said the vaccine is believed to be 94 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 illness. The primary focus of the vaccine shipment will be staff and residents in nursing facilities.

Ehresmann said the state expects to receive the last of its 46,800 doses from the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine Friday, and that the vaccine will be distributed to “hub” locations around the state by the end of the day. As of Friday, 947 health care workers have been vaccinated.

The state is getting less vaccine in a second shipment from Pfizer than expected, about 33,150 instead of roughly 58,00 doses, due to what Ehresmann said is “manufacturing fluctuations.” She said the projected allocations for each state will fluctuate given the rapidly unfolding logistical challenge of the vaccination campaign.

There are about 500,000 people in the top priority group for the vaccine in Minnesota. Read more about how the government decides who should get vaccinated first here.

State officials waiting on guidance for extra Pfizer vaccine doses

Ehresmann said Minnesota is waiting for written guidance from the FDA on how to advise health providers who have vials of the Pfizer vaccine with more product than expected. The extra doses have been appearing in shipments across the country this week. 

The FDA has told reporters it’s OK to use every full dose that is obtainable, but Ehresmann said until MDH gets more formal written guidance it’s advising health systems to rely on their own internal guidance and protocols to guide their decision. The state has no role in authorizing or not authorizing the use of extra doses, Ehresmann said.

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MDH’s coronavirus website:

MDH’s phone line for COVID-19 questions, Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m: 651-297-1304

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