Twenty-two COVID-19 deaths were reported by Minnesota health authorities on Monday along with 1,998 newly diagnosed infections of the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease.

While Monday's updates raise the state's totals to 4,872 deaths and 399,311 infections, they come amid multiple signs of progress in the latest wave of the pandemic and the start of COVID-19 vaccinations across the Twin Cities.

Daily COVID-19 figures have always been lower on Mondays — reflecting reduced testing and reporting on weekends — but this Monday was the first day with fewer than 2,000 newly confirmed infections since late October.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Minnesota also reached their lowest levels since early November. People with COVID-19 filled 1,040 Minnesota hospital beds on Sunday, including 237 patients who needed intensive care due to breathing problems or other complications from their infections.

The positivity rate of diagnostic testing also declined to 9.4% on Dec. 10, according to an update on Monday of the state's pandemic response board. That is below the state high-risk threshold of 10% and below a peak of 15.5% on Nov. 10.

The positivity rate is one of the most closely watched indicators of the pandemic, because it indicates the amount of virus circulating in Minnesota, regardless of the number of tests performed.

State health officials urged Minnesotans to continue to wear masks in public and practice social distancing to prevent any resurgence of COVID-19 over the holiday week. While infection numbers are declining in Minnesota, they are reaching record levels as the pandemic wave that started in the fall in the Upper Midwest is spreading to the rest of the country. California and New York are reporting their highest new case rates this year.

Minnesota by week's end expects to have received 174,350 doses of the first two COVID-19 vaccines — 79,950 doses from Pfizer and 94,400 doses from Moderna — that will be prioritized for health care workers at greater risk of infection and long-term care facility residents at greater risk of severe illness.

Allina Health and North Memorial Health launched vaccinations at Twin Cities hospitals and clinics on Monday after receiving initial shipments from Pfizer last week and completing state training on how to handle and administer the vaccine.

Broad communitywide access to COVID-19 vaccine isn't expected until late winter or early spring 2021.

The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices this weekend recommended that people older than 75 and workers in critical industries should be prioritized after health care workers and long-term care residents have been vaccinated. Workers in this next wave should include teachers, police officers, food producers and public transit workers, according to the ACIP guidance, which will be reviewed soon by a Minnesota vaccine advisory group.

In an order that took effect at midnight Saturday, Gov. Tim Walz ordered the continued closure of indoor service at bars and restaurants, which health officials said have been sources of large group outbreaks, through Jan. 11.

The governor allowed the limited reopening of fitness clubs after a four-week shutdown, as well as outdoor entertainment venues. Indoor social gatherings were expanded from immediate households only to up to 10 people from two households.

Exactly how much business restrictions have affected the latest pandemic wave is unclear; critics point out that Minnesota's infection rate already was declining before the governor issued his first four-week shutdown order in late November.

Mitigation strategies appear to have dampened the influenza season so far. Minnesota as of last Thursday had only reported five influenza-related hospitalizations and zero deaths. Only .4% of visits to clinics that monitor flu activity on behalf of the state have been for influenza-like illness. Last year at this time, that rate was above 3%.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744