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Health

Minnesota virus cases creep up as vaccinations hit 1.2 million – Minneapolis Star Tribune

For a third straight day, Minnesota on Saturday reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections, the first three-day run of case reports at that level in more than a month.

At the same time, the number of Minnesotans who have received at least one vaccine dose rose by 41,859, for a total of 1,205,342, according to data reported Saturday.

The mixed indicators leave state health officials with an “in-between” sense for where the state stands right now in the pandemic fight, said Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health.

“We’re now seeing cases over 1,000 for a couple of days, and our new case rate is 13.9 per 100,000, so that’s going up,” Ehresmann said.

“We’re in a good place with more and more people having the chance to be vaccinated. … But we’re in this in-between, kind of tenuous, period when we look at the number of cases that we’re seeing. We’re starting to see some increases.”

At this point, that’s not alarming, she said, but health officials are watching closely because the increases coincide with the spread of a more infectious version of the virus that causes COVID-19. A virus variant first found in the United Kingdom last year that spreads more easily, and could cause more serious illness, is now “out there and it’s increasing,” Ehresmann said.

Overall case increases not only could fuel the spread of the variant known as B.1.1.7, she said, they also give the virus more chances to change in ways that could thwart vaccine protection. The Health Department still is calling on people to follow guidelines to slow the spread of the virus even as the state relaxes rules in some areas.

“There’s a lot to be hopeful about,” Ehresmann said, “but we still have to hang on just a little bit longer.”

The numbers released Saturday pushed up the seven-day rolling average for net case increases compared with one week earlier, according to the Star Tribune’s coronavirus tracker. The precise comparison is skewed by a backlog of test results released Tuesday.

The Star Tribune’s tracker showed 50 new hospital admissions reported on Saturday, up from 38 the same day last week. Admissions reported on a given day typically span several recent days.

In general, hospitalization numbers lately have been “wonderful,” Ehresmann said, but health officials have noticed small increases in the past few days.

“They’re still dramatically lower than they were in November and December, but they’re just creeping up a little,” she said. “So that, again, we’re ever cautious — we want to get to the end of this.”

With Saturday’s data, the Star Tribune now estimates that 21.7% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine, up from about 18.3% the previous week. The Health Department says 683,034 Minnesotans have completed the two-dose vaccine series, up from last Saturday’s count of 543,696. Vaccination figures could understate totals due to reporting delays.

The state reported Saturday four more deaths linked to COVID-19, including one resident of a long-term care or assisted-living facility. Overall, Minnesota has reported 496,395 positive cases, 26,269 hospitalizations and 6,741 deaths since detecting its first virus infection. Long-term care and assisted living residents have accounted for 4,238 of the deaths.

Saturday’s one-day count of 1,191 new cases came on a volume of 32,829 newly completed tests. The share of tests coming back positive was again lower than the state’s “caution” level of 5%.

Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744

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