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The daily coronavirus update: 12 more deaths; hospitalizations on the rise in Minnesota

Minnesota health officials continue to report new cases of more contagious COVID-19 variants in the state.

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 April 1, 2021:

521,667 cases; 6,860 deaths

Twelve more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday, for a total of 6,860.

Of the people whose deaths were announced Thursday, five were in their 80s, two were in their 70s, four were in their 60s and one was in their 40s. Four of the 12 people whose deaths announced Thursday were residents of long-term care facilities.

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MDH also said Thursday there have been 521,667 total cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. That number is up 2,138 from the total announced on Wednesday and is based on 43,117 new tests. The seven-day positive case positivity rate, which lags by a week, is 5.4 percent. That rate has been increasing for weeks and is above a 5-percent threshold state officials consider a concerning sign of disease spread.

As of Tuesday, the most recent day of data available, 1,682,545 Minnesotans, or 30.2 percent of the population, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s up 24,369 from data reported the day prior. For tips on scheduling a vaccine appointment, consult the Minnesota Vaccine Hunters Facebook group, Vaccine Spotter’s Minnesota site or sign up for Vaccine Spotter’s alert notifications on Twitter. Fairview is now vaccinating anyone 50+, those with certain disabilities or health conditions and communities of color. More information can be found here.

Hospitalizations continue to rise. The most recent data available show 105 Minnesotans are hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19, which is up from 102 in data reported Wednesday and up from 93 last Thursday. Data show 330 people are in the hospital with COVID-19 not in intensive care, up from 309 reported on Wednesday and 239 reported the week prior. The last time Minnesota had more than 100 people in the ICU with COVID-19 was late January, and the hospitalization levels are similar to last September, when a deadly surge in the virus was starting.

You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

More information on cases can be found here.

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B117 variant spread still on the rise

Minnesota health officials continue to report new cases of more contagious COVID-19 variants in the state.

While MDH and its partners don’t check every sample for evidence it’s a variant, they have been increasing surveillance and targeting clusters of cases or instances where people have traveled to measure spread of the variants. The B117 variant is believed to be 50 percent more contagious and resulted in a death rate 64 percent higher than other COVID-19 strains.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield told reporters Thursday the state has found 943 cases of the COVID-19 variant known as B117, which was first identified in the U.K. This is up from 479 cases last Tuesday.

Lynfield said that in 2,600 COVID-19 positive samples at one testing lab between March 22 and March 27, between 54-66 percent were found to be B117. In roughly 1,800 positive samples between March 16 and 20, about 50-65 percent were found to be caused by B117.

Among the 943 identified cases of B117, Lynfield said 36 people have been hospitalized and four people have died.

The state has identified 214 cases of variant first identified in California, which is also thought to be more contagious. Of those cases, four people have been hospitalized and two have died.

Johnson & Johnson production issue shouldn’t affect Minnesota for now

Health officials believe the 15 million ruined Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses at a Baltimore plant won’t immediately affect Minnesota’s allocation of the vaccine, said Kris Ehresmann, MDH’s infectious disease director.

The state has been expecting an increase in J&J doses over the next several weeks. The vaccine is manufactured elsewhere in addition to the Baltimore plant. “At this point, it would seem that it will not affect Minnesota’s doses but we are waiting for final confirmation from CDC,” Ehresmann said.

Accessing therapy that can reduce the severity of COVID-19 

Lynfield told reporters that people infected with COVID-19 should ask their doctor if they’re a good fit to use monoclonal antibodies as a treatment. The drug, which is given via intravenous infusion, has been shown in studies to reduce hospitalizations among people at high risk of a severe case of COVID-19.

Lynfield said Minnesota has a supply of more than 9,000 doses and can infuse more than 2,000 people each week. It must be administered within 10 days of when symptoms of COVID-19 begin. The earlier the better.

Not all health care providers have antibody treatments, however. Patients or health care providers can get a referral to where they can get antibody treatments through the state’s Minnesota Resource Allocation Platform. People need to complete a screening questionnaire on the site. 

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Fully vaccinated people should still follow mask and distancing rules

Current health guidance says that people who are vaccinated should still not attend large gatherings with unvaccinated people, even though they’re at less risk of severe disease.

Ehresmann said that guidance is because health officials did not know if fully vaccinated people could still be carriers of the disease while not developing symptoms, and may spread the disease to others who aren’t protected by vaccines yet.

New CDC research suggests vaccinated people aren’t asymptomatic carriers. Ultimately, Ehresmann said she expects guidance to change accordingly. But she said until there is a larger body of data and evidence, the rules around masking and distancing should still be followed as a “safety net” to protect others.

Some variants of COVID-19 are also thought to better evade immunity given through vaccination.

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