Another 34 COVID-19 deaths were announced Wednesday as Minnesota inched closer to the milestone of 6,000 pandemic fatalities.

A total of 5,979 Minnesotans have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Nearly 64% of the deaths have been residents of long-term care facilities, including 20 new deaths announced Wednesday.

An additional 1,237 state residents tested positive, bringing the known total of infections to 449,492.

Minnesota started a new phase Tuesday in its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan with the launch of nine pilot sites that will administer shots to those 65 and over as well as educators and child care workers.

With the capacity for only 12,000 recipients, the state's appointment website and call centers were overwhelmed by those seeking to take the first step to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

"People should not be discouraged that this is the only way to get vaccinated forever," said state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann.

As vaccine production ramps up, and more vaccines get approval for widespread use, the state hopes to open up more sites and offer more slots.

"My hope is as more vaccine becomes available we'll be able to spread out the number of sites," Ehresmann said.

Minnesota has been receiving about 60,000 doses each week from the federal government. Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has set a goal of 100 million doses in the first 100 days of his administration.

For Minnesota, that would translate to about 2 million doses, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

"[It] certainly would represent a significant increase over the volume we are getting," she said.

The number of people who've gotten at least the first of the two required doses has inched up slightly to 200,840, just 710 more than Tuesday's report.

However, due to reporting lags, the numbers reflect new vaccinations given over the weekend, which typically have been very low.

About 40% of the nearly 600,000 doses that have been shipped to health care providers and long-term care facilities have been administered.

Minnesota's hospitals were caring for 570 COVID-19 patients, including 111 in intensive care units.

"The last time we were this low was the end of October," Malcolm said.

Most people who require hospital-level care for COVID-19 complications have underlying health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cancer or kidney disease.

For others, COVID-19 infections typically involve mild or no symptoms, although they still can be infectious shortly after contracting the coronavirus.

Of those that have been infected, 432,738 are considered to be past the infectious stage.

Diagnostic testing laboratories reported about 18,400 test results to state health officials, a one-day increase of 27%.

Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192