Seventeen COVID-19 deaths were reported in Minnesota on Wednesday along with 1,267 more infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease.

The additions raise totals to 7,191 deaths and 582,576 diagnosed infections in Minnesota, where a declining third wave of pandemic activity has state leaders set to announce a reduction in COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses and social activities.

While many states are scaling back COVID-19 restrictions at different paces this spring, Gov. Tim Walz said the next step he will announce Thursday will be a "Minnesota's model" that accounts for its unique circumstances in the pandemic.

The latest White House COVID-19 state report for Minnesota showed that the state still had the third-highest rate of new infections with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 in the week ending April 29. Minnesota appears to have an above average prevalence of infections involving a more infectious B.1.1.7 variant of the virus. As many as 68% of new infections in Minnesota involve this variant.

On the other hand, Walz said Minnesota ranks second best right now for its efficiency of COVID-19 vaccine distribution and ranks well below border states in its total pandemic infection and death rates.

Nearly 2.6 million people have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Minnesota — accounting for 59% of the eligible population of people 16 and older — and more than 2 million have completed the one- or two-dose series. More than 87% of senior citizens in the state have received a first dose — a key target group that has suffered 89% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths.

State health officials remain concerned despite the recent progress about the emergence of B.1.1.7 as well as other variants of concern that are more infectious and sending younger adults into hospital care. COVID-19 cases filled 580 inpatient beds in Minnesota hospitals as of Tuesday.

"There is still an extremely high level of virus circulating all over the state," state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday included a Ramsey County resident in the 25 to 29 year age range. That is only the 14th COVID-19 death in Minnesota involving someone younger than 30.

Fourteen of the 17 COVID-19 deaths involved people who lived in private residences. That appears to be a sign of vaccine effectiveness, state health officials said, because doses were initially prioritized for vulnerable residents of long-term care facilities. At the end of 2020, long-term care residents made up 64% of Minnesota's total COVID-19 deaths. In 2021 so far, the proportion of COVID-19 deaths involving long-term care residents has only been 51%

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744