Minnesota health officials on Monday urged people to take precautions against COVID-19 transmission in group settings because large outbreaks could upset the state's progress toward reduced restrictions and perhaps live Twins baseball.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported social outbreak data showing 39 outbreaks among customers in bars and restaurants in 2021 along with 85 outbreaks involving sports and 23 in fitness clubs and gyms.
"Because people without symptoms can spread the virus, people may not know" that they may be contributing to the outbreaks, said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director, urging people to continue mask-wearing and social distancing practices to lower the risk of viral transmission.
Bar outbreaks are reported if they involve at least five people from different households who only visited one establishment in the past month. None of these outbreaks so far in 2021 has involved more than 10 such cases.
Sports outbreaks involve at least two cases on the same team or sports program that can't be traced to other common infection sources.
The detection of outbreaks in eating establishments and indoor sports and entertainment facilities, following their reopenings last month, comes amid otherwise improving indicators of COVID-19 activity in Minnesota.
The positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing dropped to 3.6% — the lowest rate since June 24 — while the 235 COVID-19 patients filling Minnesota hospital beds on Sunday was the lowest count since September. The 48 hospitalized COVID-19 patients needing intensive care was the lowest total since early April.
The state Health Department on Monday also reported one COVID-19 death and 561 newly diagnosed infections. The daily totals — which are typically low on Mondays due to less reporting and diagnostic activities on the weekends — bring the state's toll to 6,433 deaths and 479,591 known infections.
Health officials recalled how similar progress was disrupted by rising large group outbreaks that then spread the virus communitywide last summer, followed by school reopenings last fall.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm declined to comment on specifics of a proposal by the Minnesota Twins to allow up to 10,000 fans at Target Field games this spring, but she said the chance to enjoy live outdoor baseball would be a payoff of continued efforts to reduce viral transmission.
"If ... all of us continue to work hard, Twins fans and everybody, to keep the virus under control while vaccinations ramp up, we are truly optimistic about the possibility of fans getting back into sports venues in 2021," Malcolm said.
The potential for a new wave of COVID-19 is heightened by the emergence of new, more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but at the same time lessened by the increasing administration of vaccine.
The state on Monday reported that 759,747 people in Minnesota have received at least the first of two doses of COVID-19 Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and 356,911 of them have completed the series.
The state estimates that more than 41% of senior citizens in Minnesota have received at least one dose. Seniors are prioritized for limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccine along with health care workers, long-term care facility residents and educators.
People 65 and older have suffered 89% of the COVID-19 deaths so far in Minnesota. That includes the lone death reported Monday of a long-term care facility resident from Ramsey County in the 80 to 84 age range.
Minnesota's vaccination progress was disrupted last week when U.S. storms delayed shipments of doses to the state, causing the postponement of some state vaccination clinics over the weekend. However, Ehresmann on Monday said any remaining overdue shipments from last week will arrive early this week and that all shipments for this week are scheduled to arrive in the next few days.
"There were no doses lost in this process," she added. "It's really just purely been a situation where doses couldn't be shipped because of weather conditions in the Southern states."
Gov. Tim Walz's office on Monday also announced that Hy-Vee is joining the federal pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination partnership in Minnesota along with Walmart and Thrifty White. The pharmacy chain will be receiving 10,000 doses this week and offering appointments online.
State leaders urge all Minnesotans, regardless of age, to register with the vaccine connector, vaccine-connector.mn.gov, which will notify them once they are eligible for vaccination in Minnesota.
More than 386,000 people have registered on the site, which requires only birth dates and contact information. It also requests personal, occupational and health information that could be used to determine when someone is eligible for vaccine or whether the state is falling short on vaccinating any at-risk demographic groups.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744