Minnesota lowered its reported positivity rate of recent COVID-19 diagnostic testing to 5%, the first time since mid-March that the key measure of viral transmission levels has been at or below the state's caution threshold.
The positive indicator came on Tuesday as the Minnesota Department of Health reported another 14 COVID-19 deaths and 519 infections with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease. Minnesota since the start of the pandemic has reported 7,310 COVID-19 deaths and 595,532 infections identified through diagnostic testing.
All deaths reported Tuesday involved people who lived in private residences, an indicator of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine that was prioritized earlier this year for residents of long-term care facilities who otherwise have suffered 60% of the state's deaths in the pandemic.
More than 2.7 million people in Minnesota have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 2.3 million of them have completed the one- or two-dose series. The increase means that 61.7% of Minnesotans 16 or older have received at least a first dose.
Children age 12 to 15 became eligible for the Pfizer version of the vaccine last week, and health officials believe that will boost vaccination activity in Minnesota. That expansion made another 283,000 Minnesotans eligible for COVID-19 vaccine.
Ramsey County officials at Tuesday morning's board meeting said some families had been waiting until the parents and children can get shots all at once. Teenagers also have been eager to get vaccinated in order to see friends and participate in more social activities.
"I've never seen my daughter so excited to get a shot before," said Kathy Hedin, deputy county manager of health and wellness. "She's usually terrified."
The board voted to modify mask-wearing rules in county-owned locations, waiving the requirement outdoors but still requiring that masks be worn in indoor public spaces such as libraries and service centers. County workers don't need to wear them at their workspaces or in meetings in which social distancing can be maintained.
While Gov. Tim Walz lifted a statewide indoor public mask-wearing mandate last week, Hedin said continued use of the protective face coverings could keep viral transmission low in Ramsey County and buy time to provide shots to people who have had limited access to them due to transportation, income, employment or other barriers.
Hennepin County requires that masks be worn in its facilities while Washington County does not. Both the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have broader indoor mask-wearing requirements that apply beyond public buildings.
State health officials suspect there will be some resurgence in COVID-19 activity as mask-wearing and social distancing practices decline. Pandemic totals on Tuesday included 440 people hospitalized in Minnesota for COVID-19, including 112 requiring intensive care.
The 5% positivity rate reflects the results of COVID-19 tests performed in the seven-day period ending May 9. The rate had reached a low of 3.5% on March 3 but then rose to 7.4% on April 11 amid the circulation of more infectious variants of the coronavirus.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744