Two key COVID-19 metrics reached historical lows in Minnesota — with the positivity rate of diagnostic testing declining to 2.3% and the number of hospitalizations related to the infectious disease dropping to 201.
The declining positivity rate indicates low levels of viral transmission in Minnesota, where 63.1% of eligible people 12 and older have received COVID-19 vaccine. The Minnesota Department of Health reported on Tuesday another 125 diagnosed infections with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and two deaths.
While that raised the state's pandemic totals to 603,005 infections and 7,469 deaths, Gov. Tim Walz said it also is one of the lowest new daily infection totals since March 2020 and shows the effectiveness of Minnesota's COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
"We can go places again. We can do things again," said Walz, speaking in a busy mall at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to promote a new single-dose vaccination pop-up site for travelers. "This is what the vaccine brought us."
Vaccination progress has slowed over the past month in Minnesota, which lost a key resource Tuesday when a large federal vaccination site at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds closed as scheduled.
The state is on pace to fall just short of its goal of providing 70% of Minnesotans 16 and older with COVID-19 vaccine by July 1 — despite already reaching a 65.3% rate in that age group. However, Walz said Minnesota is close to becoming the 14th state to meet President Biden's goal of providing at least first doses to 70% of people 18 and older by July 4 and has numerous vaccine options ranging from local doctor offices to state pop-up sites to mobile bus clinics.
"We said it's going to be person to person, door to door, and in this case flight to flight," Walz said.
The new airport pop-up clinic serves Minnesotans but also has provided shots to people from Iceland, Guatemala and other countries that don't have as much access. A state official said federal doses brought over from the fairgrounds site are supplying the airport clinic.
The nearly 3 million Minnesotans who have received COVID-19 vaccine include more than 2.6 million people who have completed the one- or two-dose series. People are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after they receive their final dose — giving their immune system time to respond to the vaccine and become protective against the coronavirus.
Minnesota has reached a first-dose vaccination rate of 89.9% in senior citizens, a vulnerable population that has suffered 88% of the state's total COVID-19 deaths.
Health officials believe vaccination progress in vulnerable populations, including long-term care facility residents, has reduced the amount of severe COVID-19 illnesses. The 201 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday were down from 699 on April 14 at the peak of this spring's pandemic wave and from a single-day record of 1,864 on Nov. 29.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective — reducing the risk of infection by 91% for fully vaccinated people.
The study is based on real-world vaccination experiences for health care providers and first responders in Duluth and seven other regions in the U.S. It was initiated before approval of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and doesn't evaluate its effectiveness.
The CDC report released Monday also showed milder illnesses and fewer hospitalizations among the few vaccinated people who did suffer breakthrough infections.
Minnesota has been among the most aggressive states in searching for breakthrough infections — identifying 2,868 as of Monday out of 2.6 million fully vaccinated individuals, for a rate of 0.1%. Minnesota's known breakthrough infections include 290 people who were hospitalized and 38 people who died of COVID-19.
While the CDC study wasn't conclusive, it suggested based on low viral levels in breakthrough cases that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the coronavirus to others.
Walz said Minnesota has "learned a lot" since the start of the pandemic. The last time daily infections were this low in late March 2020, Minnesota was hoping to ramp up testing capacity to 2,000 people per day. The state eventually reached 70,000 tests per day.
"We've been through much together. A lot of the things that we love to do like travel and see our relatives and vacations and graduations and everything else are now back in reach," said Walz, but he added that "we've got some more work to do" and urged unvaccinated people to get their shots now.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744