More than 91,000 Minnesotans have received first doses of COVID-19 vaccine amid a pandemic that has caused 5,572 deaths and 429,570 diagnosed infections in the state.

The totals include 44 deaths reported Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health along with 2,004 newly confirmed infections with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

While more than 80% of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota have involved people 70 or older — mostly residents of long-term care facilities — Wednesday's reported included two deaths of people in their 40s from Aitkin and Jackson counties.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday scaled back restrictions he had put in place in late November amid a surge in COVID-19 activity. Among other changes, bars and restaurants will be able to provide indoor service again at 50% capacity, starting Monday.

"We have reasons to be optimistic, and Minnesotans' sacrifice and commitment to their communities helped change the pandemic's trajectory and saved lives," Walz said.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 continued to decline. The state reported that 135 people with the infectious disease were admitted to intensive care beds in Minnesota hospitals on Wednesday. That is the lowest number since Oct. 15 and a steep decline from the peak of 399 ICU hospitalizations on Dec. 1.

However, the positivity rate of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 continues to nudge upward — raising concerns that group gatherings over the holidays might have increased viral transmission. The seven-day positivity rate had peaked at 15.5% on Nov, 10, then dropped to 4.7% on Dec. 24. It rose back to 6.6% as of Dec. 29.

Walz on Wednesday said he was urging an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations in the state now that providers are trained in the handling and administration of the complex two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The state on Thursday reported that first doses had been administered to 91,174 people — primarily the priority group of health care workers who are at greater risk of viral exposure and of long-term care residents who are at greater risk of severe COVID-19 illness because of their ages and underlying health conditions. The total is an increase of nearly 10,000 in the number of reported injections compared to Wednesday's total.

The number is well below the state's allocation of 396,350 doses of vaccine, but health officials said that includes many doses that have yet to arrive. An estimated 288,000 doses will have actually arrived in Minnesota by the end of the day Thursday.

State health officials are scheduled to meet next week to discuss the distribution of vaccine to the next priority group — people 75 and older and workers in critical front-line industries.

The state has closely followed the guidance of the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for prioritizing limited initial doses of vaccine while other states have taken varied approaches. Florida has opted to prioritize people 65 and older.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744