The positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing dropped to 5.7%, its lowest level in Minnesota since late March, offering hope that vaccination progress is limiting the spread of the infectious disease.

The rate, a key measure of viral activity in Minnesota, had been as low as 3.5% on March 3 before rising in the latest pandemic wave to a peak of 7.5% on April 8. COVID-19 hospitalizations also declined to 423 on Sunday, down from a peak of 699 on April 14 and from 484 a week earlier.

State health officials have characterized the latest pandemic wave as a race between COVID-19 vaccinations and the spread of more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the disease.

Vaccination numbers have slowed in Minnesota, but the state on Monday reported that more than 2.7 million people have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and that more than 2.3 million of them have completed the one- or two-dose series. Nearly 62% of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least a first shot — with the Pfizer version of the vaccine being offered for the first time to people 12 to 15 as well.

The state on Monday reported no COVID-19 deaths and 589 more infections identified through testing. Minnesota's totals in the pandemic are 7,296 deaths and 595,016 known infections.

State health officials last week said they will be closely watching for the impact that any reduction in prevention strategies has on the variant vs. vaccine race.

Gov. Tim Walz ended the state's public indoor mask mandate late last week, though some municipalities and businesses still require that masks be worn to reduce risks of viral transmission. Target removed its mask requirement on Monday while signs at the Mall of America only strongly encourage that they be worn.

Mask usage had already been declining before the change in state policy — with only 68% of survey respondents indicating that they always wore them in public, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington state. The mask-wearing rate had been above 70% in Minnesota since Oct. 22.

The state is scheduled to remove remaining indoor capacity caps and social distancing requirements on May 28 before the Memorial Day weekend. Mayo Clinic's pandemic modeling forecasts a nearly 40% drop in the rate of new COVID-19 cases in Minnesota in two weeks.

The latest weekly summary of social COVID-19 outbreaks in Minnesota showed a total of 326 outbreaks in bars and restaurants so far this year. Outbreaks in these settings are defined as seven people from different households having positive COVID-19 tests and only visiting the same bar or restaurant in the past month.

The summary also showed 394 sports-related outbreaks, which are defined as two people from the same team testing positive within 14 days of one another and having no other transmission sources in common.

While there can be a time lag in the identification of group outbreaks, the numbers appear to be declining. The number of bar/restaurant outbreaks peaked this year at 50 in the seven-day period ending April 10, but declined to 22 identified so far in the week ending May 8.

The declines come amid signs of increasing social mobility. Traffic levels have rebounded in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported that metro traffic was 67% below expected levels on April 12, 2020, the lowest rate during the pandemic. However, metro traffic was 1.3% above expected levels on Saturday.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744