COVID-19 vaccinations of senior citizens started at nine test sites in Minnesota on Thursday, the latest effort to contain a pandemic that has caused more than 6,000 deaths of state residents.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 32 more deaths on Thursday, bringing the state total to 6,011 only 28 days after surpassing 5,000. The state also reported 1,292 newly diagnosed infections, bringing that total to 450,762.

Minnesota's latest milestone came amid increases in vaccinations — with 203,839 people at least receiving first doses of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines — and declines in the latest wave of the pandemic.

Only 98 people with COVID-19 were being treated in intensive care units in Minnesota hospitals on Wednesday, the lowest number since Sept. 21. The seven-day average positivity rate of diagnostic testing also dropped to 5.1% as of Jan 12, an indication of less transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

State health officials remain concerned that another pandemic wave could emerge later this winter and underscored the need to hasten the administration of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines that were first approved for use last month.

Minnesota's totals include 41,984 people who have received both doses of the vaccines, which were found in clinical trials to be around 95% protective when given on schedule. Second doses of the Pfizer vaccine are supposed to be given three weeks after the first doses. Moderna doses are spaced out by four weeks.

Minnesota first prioritized limited doses of vaccine per federal guidance to roughly 500,000 health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. First doses have already been given or offered to workers at greatest risk of viral exposure — those working in emergency departments or COVID-19 treatment units — and are being extended to other health care providers.

The majority of long-term care vaccinations were handled under a federal contract by chain pharmacies CVS, Walgreens and Thrifty White. Both CVS and Walgreens on Thursday reported that they had completed initial vaccination clinics in all of their assigned nursing homes in the state — administering more than 20,000 doses. They are now performing vaccine clinics in assisted-living facilities.

State officials this week launched test clinics at nine sites across Minnesota to provided limited vaccine access to people 65 and older, as well as teachers and child-care workers. COVID-19 has been most severe for people 65 and older, who have suffered more than 80% of the deaths related to the pandemic in Minnesota — including 29 of the 32 deaths reported Thursday.

The state diverted 12,000 doses for this expansion group out of a shipment of roughly 60,000 doses this week.

Demand easily outpaced the supply, as thousands of seniors crashed a state website on Tuesday in their attempts to sign up for vaccine appointments.

The state on Wednesday reported that it nonetheless was able to schedule roughly 6,000 appointments for seniors this Thursday through Saturday — with the rest being scheduled separately for educators.

Seniors will be able to register for vaccine appointments next week, starting at noon on Jan. 26.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744