The positivity rate of COVID-19 testing rose back above Minnesota's 5% caution threshold on Tuesday, reflecting a monthlong increase in infections despite the state's vaccination progress.
A key benchmark of viral spread in Minnesota, the 5.2% positivity rate is less than the peak of 15.5% on Nov. 10, but an increase from a low of 3.5% on March 3. The state on Tuesday also reported one COVID-19 death and 1,278 diagnosed infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the disease — bringing its overall pandemic totals to 6,836 deaths and 517,881 infections.
State health officials have warned of renewed pandemic activity in Minnesota because of more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, spring break travels and some weakening of mask-wearing and social distancing compliance.
The rate of Minnesotans who always wear masks in public has slipped from 79% in mid-February to 74%, according to survey data published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington state. That rate remains among the highest in the Midwest — with only 52% of people in South Dakota always wearing masks in public.
The key question remains whether the increase in diagnosed infections will result in the same trends that occurred in the spring and fall — with subsequent increases in hospitalizations and deaths.
The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to Minnesota hospital beds has increased from 210 on March 6 to 357 on Monday — though that growth has leveled off in recent days and doctors are reporting younger patients with more favorable outcomes when compared to the prior pandemic waves.
A measurable increase in deaths has not yet occurred, and state health officials are hopeful that vaccination progress is preventing Minnesotans from suffering severe COVID-19 illnesses despite an uptick in infections.
The state on Tuesday reported that 1,637,771 people have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 1,003,316 have completed the series by receiving two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer versions or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson version. Roughly 37% of eligible Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least a first dose.
More than 81% of senior citizens in Minnesota have received COVID-19 vaccine — having been prioritized along with health care workers, long-term care facility residents, K-12 and child-care educators and non-elderly adults with qualifying health conditions or front-line occupations.
Minnesota expanded vaccine eligibility on Tuesday to all 4.4 million people 16 and older, but many providers are continuing to give doses first to these groups at elevated risk for viral infection or COVID-19 illness.
Walz and state health officials recently relaxed mitigation restrictions designed to reduce viral spread, in part because of confidence in vaccination.
Capacity levels were expanded last month for bars and restaurants and numerical participation caps were eliminated for worship services in Minnesota.
On Thursday, indoor and outdoor event venues will be allowed to resume activities, including professional sporting events with limited numbers of fans. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Wild will each host up to 3,000 fans for games starting April 5.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744