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The daily coronavirus update: 13 more deaths; state officials unsure how to handle new federal vaccination guidelines

The Minnesota Department of Health also said Tuesday that there were 1,315 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, based on 29,315 new tests.

COVID-19
COVID-19
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 January 12, 2021:

438,867 cases; 5,724 deaths

Thirteen more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday, for a total of 5,724.

Of the people whose deaths were announced Tuesday, one was over 100 years old, three were in their 90s, six were in their 80s, two were in their 70s and one was in their 50s. Five of the 13 people whose deaths announced Tuesday were residents of long-term care facilities.

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MDH also said Tuesday there have been 438,867 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. That number is up 1,315 from the total announced on Monday and is based on 29,315 new tests. The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is 7.5 percent. The case average has increased steadily for more than a week after briefly dropping below a 5-percent threshold that health officials say signals concerning disease spread.

The most recent data available show 135 Minnesotans are hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, and 557 are in the hospital with COVID-19 not in intensive care. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

State unclear on how to handle new federal vaccination guidelines

The federal government said Tuesday that it won’t reserve vaccine shots meant for a required second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in a push to make more available now. Federal officials had been holding back shots to ensure people get their second dose, but now say they’re confident supply can keep up with demand for these second vaccination rounds.

The Associated Press reported that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the feds will determine how much vaccine to send each state based in part on how well those states have done administering the shots so far.

President-elect Joe Biden had also called for the federal government to release vaccine reserves held for second doses.

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Nevertheless, Kris Ehresmann, the MDH infectious disease director, said Minnesota is waiting for further guidance before changing its strategy of vaccination, which is currently focused on health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. She said no additional vaccine doses have been made available for Minnesota, and MDH is seeking written guidance on how to proceed. The state only has basic information presented by the feds to the media Tuesday.

While Ehresmann said the state is prepared, in theory, to distribute vaccinations to a wider group of people, Minnesota’s vaccine supply remains limited. So allowing people age 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of a severe COVID-19 case would increase the pool of eligible people significantly. “We’re all of the sudden, with this announcement, potentially adding a couple million people who will expect to be vaccinated,” Ehresmann said. “If we are only getting 60,000 doses a week, that is going to be a real problem.”

Ehresmann said the state hopes to be done with phase 1A of its vaccinations by the end of January, and said she expected the next priority group to include older people and those with underlying health conditions. So the announcement by the feds is consistent with the state’s planning, she said.

Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday he signed a letter with other governors asking for more doses to be released, and noted people between 65 and 74 years old account for 64 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota. Walz said the next priority group for vaccines will also “more than likely” include teachers and some essential workers. “Regardless of who we put into our queues of 1A, 1B and 1C, we are still are absolutely hampered by the amount of vaccine that we have,” Walz said.

Health officials said they have many outstanding questions, such as whether the state will now be responsible for reserving second doses or if they should use vaccines reserved for second shots for first ones and figure out the second one later. “It added an immense logistical issue that was not there six months ago,” Walz said of Tuesday’s federal announcement.

Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday he signed a letter with other governors asking for more doses to be released.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday he signed a letter with other governors asking for more doses to be released.
Ehresmann noted Biden’s administration will begin soon and may have at least some different guidance, further complicating matters. “It’s not so much that we don’t know what’s going on, it’s that we need a lot more information before we can operationalize this,” said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

MDH releases new vaccine dashboard

MDH on Tuesday launched a new site to report vaccination data, which includes more information than had previously been public.

For instance, the dashboard now shows vaccines administered by county. The state says 144,503 people have received at least one vaccine dose as of Saturday while 7,392 have gotten both required shots. As of Monday, The federal government has promised 541,100 doses for Minnesota, which includes first shots and some second doses. Promised doses don’t include vaccines allocated to federal agencies like Veteran’s Affairs.

There have been 429,950 doses shipped to Minnesota health care providers and for a federal vaccination program in long-term care facilities, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracking system. (Not all of those doses may have arrived in the state yet, however.)

As of Monday, 35.6 percent of doses shipped to the state have been used. The vaccine data can be downloaded.

State government reporter Peter Callaghan contributed to this report

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MDH’s coronavirus website: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

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

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