Three COVID-19 deaths and 882 coronavirus infections reported Saturday in Minnesota reflect a monthlong decline in pandemic activity, but health officials suspect those numbers could rise as people shed protective masks.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm urged unvaccinated people to seek shots now that vaccine is abundant and to wear masks to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But with the state lifting its public indoor mask mandate on Friday, Malcolm said she is concerned that people at risk will ignore this public health guidance.
"Anytime there is more interaction when there is this level of virus circulating, there will be more cases," she said. "I don't think there is much dispute about that."
Vaccination progress should counter some of the increased risk of viral spread as a result of lax public health practices, she said. Minnesota on Saturday surpassed 2.7 million people who have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine — 61.3% of the state's 16-and-older population. That includes nearly 2.3 million people who have completed the one- or two-dose series.
Vaccinations just started last week among 283,000 12- to 15-year-olds in Minnesota who became eligible for the Pfizer version of COVID-19 vaccine.
Health officials have been concerned about more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreading among unvaccinated individuals, including children who aren't eligible for shots. Variant-driven outbreaks among teenagers and in youth sports contributed to this spring's third wave of COVID-19 activity, but the latest weekly state report on pandemic activity showed improvement.
Infections among pre-K-12 students dropped for a second consecutive week — though the more than 1,000 infections identified in the seven-day period ending May 1 exceeded even the worst week of last fall's severe pandemic wave. A seventh death of a pre-K-12 teacher or staff member was included in the weekly report, though infections have sharply declined in that group, which was prioritized for vaccine.
The pandemic has caused 7,286 deaths in Minnesota and 593,622 infections that were identified through testing. The state on Friday reported a 5.8% positivity rate of recent diagnostic testing, which is above a 5% caution threshold but below a peak of 7.5% on April 8.
Many businesses and communities maintained mask-wearing requirements this weekend even with the lifting of the mandate, and state Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann urged people to follow them despite their weariness over more than a year of pandemic restrictions.
The state also has indoor capacity caps and social distancing requirements for bars, restaurants and entertainment venues but is scheduled to lift those on May 28.
"We've seen the positive impact of vaccination over the last few months and how it's allowed us to avoid some large peaks in case numbers," Ehresmann said. "But if people perhaps take the wrong attitude about this, to say 'it's over and everything is fine,' we could see spikes in cases."
The state last week reported 1,942 infections, 175 hospitalizations and 21 deaths among the 1.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated in Minnesota — which means it has been 14 days since their final doses. However, health officials noted the infections represent only 0.1% of fully vaccinated individuals and that more vaccinations will slow the spread of the virus and further reduce the chance for more breakthrough infections.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744