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The daily coronavirus update: Minnesota to make 1.8 million people eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

According to the most recent data, 1,086,936 Minnesotans, or roughly 19.5 percent of the state’s population, have received at least one dose of a vaccine so far.

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 March 9, 2021:

Walz announces 1.8 million eligible for vaccines on Wednesday

Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday that Minnesota will make nearly 1.8 million people eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting on Wednesday as the state approaches a goal for vaccinating seniors.

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The governor announced the next two priority groups for vaccination can start getting shots, such as people with high-risk health conditions, a swath of frontline workers and older people living in multigenerational households.

But in a news release, Walz said health care providers must prioritize people in the first of the two phases, including:

  • Minnesotans who have sickle-cell disease, Down syndrome, are in cancer treatment, are immunocompromised from an organ transplant, or are oxygen-dependent with COPD and congestive heart failure.
  • State residents who work in food processing plants.

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The second priority group authorized is much larger, and it includes:

  • Minnesotans who are age 45 and older who have one or more underlying health conditions as specified by the federal government, as well as residents who are 16 or older with two underlying health conditions.
  • People who are age 50 or older and live in multigenerational housing.
  • Other essential workers, including: workers in agriculture, corrections, food production, retail and service, the judicial system, manufacturing, public health, public transit and the U.S. Postal Service. Also included are airport staff and child care workers who weren’t previously eligible. 

Walz planned to open vaccines to more people when 70 percent of Minnesotans who are age 65 or older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. He had initially thought the state would reach that milestone by the end of March. But the state has moved swiftly to vaccinate seniors: 67.1 percent of people in that age group had one or more shots, according to state data. 

Walz’s move represents a massive expansion of vaccine eligibility, though state health officials say Minnesota is also receiving more vaccines from the federal government than in January and February.

There were about 500,000 people in the state’s first phase of vaccination, which included health care workers and long-term care residents. The second phase, which included seniors and teachers, includes about 1.2 million people. In January, state officials estimated there were about 918,000 Minnesotans age 65 and older.

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Overall, the state’s most recent data says 1,086,936 Minnesotans, roughly 19.5 percent of the state’s population, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Jan Malcolm, the Minnesota Department of Health commissioner, told reporters on Tuesday that she expects to reach the first, smaller group of people with underlying health conditions for vaccination in as quickly as 10 days, and running concurrently, vaccinate meatpacking workers in “probably” two weeks. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner said the state plans to have vaccination sites at larger plants and Malcolm said those settings might be a great use for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Some states are moving forward with a simpler approach to vaccination eligibility, such as allowing anyone age 55 or older to have access regardless of their health condition or job. But Walz and Malcolm said they’re hoping to vaccinate those most at risk of severe cases of COVID-19, and said sometimes opening up to really broad groups can create a bottleneck when a rush of vaccine demand can’t be met.

Walz said meatpacking workers tend to be people of color and Petersen said they’re critical to keeping the food system running. Many also got sick, particularly in the early months of the pandemic.

The governor has described his vaccination strategy as a highway that is adding lanes as more vaccines become available. Past lanes keep running, allowing anyone eligible previously to get a shot if they haven’t already, but concurrent new lanes merge in on the fly. “If 100 percent (of seniors) want to get this and I encourage you to do so, you are still prioritized to get that,” Walz said.

State officials urged people to sign up for the state’s Vaccine Connector website to get alerted when a vaccine is available, but they also said people in some specific groups or industries could get access to pop-up vaccine sites in coordination with their employer. 

492,108 cases; 6,696 deaths

The state Department of Health reported Tuesday that four COVID testing labs had failed to submit reports of testing to the state as required by law. While the results have now been reported, the state is investigating and could sanction the labs. Three of the four processed tests from long-term-care facilities.

The delayed reporting will result in a one-day blip in reported deaths as 138 confirmed COVID deaths will all show up in Tuesday’s numbers. While the positive tests were not properly reported to the state, the tested patients were provided care and were subject to protocols such as isolation and contact tracing, MDH said.

While the department was aware of the deaths, it did not include them in daily totals of confirmed or probable COVID-related deaths because — unlike those cases — the deaths were not confirmed by testing or cause-of-death information on death certificates.

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The department also said the four labs had not reported a total of 37,350 tests that produced 891 positive results. The department said it normally has 161 labs that test for and are required to report results of communicable diseases. That number jumped to 924 labs as demand for testing increased once the pandemic began.

The state reported two deaths Tuesday outside of the backlog. Including the additional deaths from the missing reports, the state now has reported a total of 6,696 deaths. MDH also said Tuesday there have been 492,108 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 1,625 from Monday’s count — including 734 cases outside of the additions from the backlog. The new cases outside of the backlog come on 10,056 new tests.

The seven-day positive case average, which lags by a week, is 3.5 percent. That rate has been stable over the last few weeks and is below the 5-percent threshold state officials consider a concerning sign of disease spread.

The state’s most recent data says 1,086,936 Minnesotans, roughly 19.5 percent of the state’s population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s up 14,676 from data reported Monday. MDH says 602,623 Minnesotans have completed their vaccine series, meaning they have either had two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The most recent data available show 50 Minnesotans are hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, and 181 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.

Walz talking to sports teams about having fans at stadiums

Walz told reporters he was talking Monday morning with top officials with the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota United about having fans at their stadiums and hopes to give them guidance within days on how many the teams could have. The governor said he’s worried about more transmissible COVID-19 variants, but they want to give sports leagues as much lead time to plan for the start of their seasons. He also is considering having fans at high school sports tournaments. The Twins home opener is scheduled for April 8.

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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