Seven COVID-19 deaths and 1,714 diagnosed infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the disease were reported by the Minnesota Department of Health on Friday.

The daily figures bring Minnesota's totals to 6,821 COVID-19 deaths and 512,097 known infections, and continue a recent uptick in pandemic activity that has health officials concerned. The positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing increased to 4.7%, bringing it closer to a state caution threshold of 5%.

The number of Minnesota hospital beds with COVID-19 patients increased again to 357 on Thursday — which is above a recent low of 210 on March 6 but well below the peak of 1,864 on Nov. 29.

Health officials are hoping that continued progress in COVID-19 vaccination will outpace growth in COVID-19 activity that is being fueled in part by more infectious variants of the coronavirus. The state reached a key milestone Friday of providing at least first doses of vaccine to 80% of senior citizens, a group that has sustained 89% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths.

"We are in a race between the variants and the vaccine, and we must remain vigilant and work together so the vaccines win," said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, encouraging Minnesotans to get "vaccinated as soon as you have the opportunity."

The state on Thursday also had reported that vaccine had been offered to 99% of the state's long-term care facility staff and residents. Five of the seven deaths reported Friday involved people 65 or older, but none were long-term care residents.

Overall, 1,510,237 people in Minnesota have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 903,188 have completed the series either by receiving two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer versions or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson version. That means that more than 42% of Minnesotans 16 and older have at least received a first dose.

The Pfizer vaccine has been federally approved for people 16 and older while the age cutoff is 18 for the Moderna and J&J vaccines. Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced that everyone 16 and older in Minnesota will be eligible for vaccine, starting Tuesday. Access had previously been prioritized for people at greatest risk of infection or severe COVID-19, and some providers announced that they would continue to focus on that population.

The 1,714 infections reported on Friday, following 1,857 on Thursday, represented an increase in pandemic activity in Minnesota. Health officials remain uncertain if this is a blip like those following Thanksgiving or Christmas, or a more sustained increase driven by the new, more infectious viral variants.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744