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The daily coronavirus update: 50 more deaths; state lawmakers push to speed up, expand vaccine distribution

Minnesota’s seven-day positive case average continues to be well above a threshold that health officials say is a concerning sign of disease spread.

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 13, 2021:

440,354 cases; 5,774 deaths

Fifty more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday, for a total of 5,774.

Of the people whose deaths were announced Wednesday, two were over 100 years old, 12 were in their 90s, 17 were in their 80s, 10 were in their 70s, eight were in their 60s and one was in their 40s. Thirty-three of the 50 people whose deaths announced Wednesday were residents of long-term care facilities.

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MDH also said Wednesday there have been 440,354 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. That number is up 1,487 from the total announced on Tuesday and is based on 23,956 new tests. The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is 7.5 percent. That positivity rate has been on the rise and is well above a 5-percent threshold that health officials say is a concerning sign of disease spread.

The most recent data available show 129 Minnesotans are hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, and 536 are in the hospital with COVID-19 not in intensive care. Both numbers are down from data reported Tuesday and come after a slight uptick in reported hospitalizations over the last week. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

Republicans push MDH to expand vaccine distribution

Minnesota Senate Republicans on Wednesday called on state health officials to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines faster and to older people at greater risk for severe cases of the disease.

“I’m struggling with why is it not those at the highest risk of losing their lives aren’t the first ones at the top of the priority list to get the vaccine,” said Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, during a Senate hearing. “That, to me, makes the most sense.”

On Tuesday, the federal government told states to start vaccinating people age 65 and older, as well as those with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, in a bid to speed up vaccine distribution. Confident in the supply of vaccine, the feds said they’d ship out doses that had been held in reserve for the second required shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

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But MDH, which is still working to vaccinate health care workers and people in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, said Tuesday it was waiting for more guidance — and more vaccines — from the federal government before changing course. 

Health officials said they hope to finish the top priority group for vaccination by the end of January, but their plans for who is prioritized next have been upended. MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm told a Senate panel Wednesday they had expected to move on to vaccinate people age 75 and older as well as essential workers like teachers and first responders.

The federal guidance “pushed essential workers off the table,” Malcolm said, and instead includes people age 65 and older, plus adults age 18-64 with underlying health conditions. There are roughly 918,000 Minnesotans aged 65 and older and 1.3 million Minnesotans between the ages of 18-64 who have underlying health conditions, according to MDH data.

MDH said its most recent allocation from the federal government was for 60,000 doses, and the agency is still figuring out if they need to reserve second shots for people in Minnesota now that the federal government isn’t doing so.

State Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, asked Gov. Tim Walz in a letter to convert COVID-19 testing sites into vaccination sites to increase the vaccination rate. As of Tuesday, the state has administered 32 percent of doses shipped to the state, though that data does not account for some lag between when vaccines are shipped and when they arrive in the state.

As of Sunday, 146,901 Minnesotans had received at least one vaccine dose.

On Tuesday, Malcolm said the state hasn’t had a problem finding enough people to vaccinate in current priority groups, as has been the case in some other states.

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In Housley’s committee, lawmakers and people invited to testify complained of confusion with guidelines for who should be vaccinated and argued older people should get doses faster. Many were frustrated that elderly people who don’t live in long-term care but may still be at high risk of serious cases of COVID-19 don’t have clear guidance on when they can get vaccinated.

Dawn Schneider, a Pipestone resident, said she had heard of people at a local optometrist’s office being vaccinated while she didn’t know when her mom could be vaccinated. Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said she knew of people who had gone to Arizona to be vaccinated since the state allows more people to get shots. (States like Florida and Arizona have struggled to meet demand, however.)

Correction: Dawn Schneider said Wednesday that had heard of people being vaccinated at an optometrist’s office, not state Sen. Carrie Ruud.

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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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