Another 82 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19 complications, along with 4,539 new confirmed cases, state health officials reported Wednesday.

The pandemic has taken 4,109 lives in the state. Since Thanksgiving, there have been 734 deaths, an average of 54 new deaths reported each day.

Much of the toll has been among long-term care residents, who account for 66% of all deaths in the state. Fifty-one of the deaths reported Wednesday were residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

Minnesota is preparing for the first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines, with the expectation that the state will get 183,400 doses by the end of the year.

Priority will be given to front-line health care workers and residents of nursing homes.

The goal is to protect doctors, nurses and other health care professionals working in intensive care units, emergency rooms and other settings where there is direct contact with those sickened by the new coronavirus.

That will help alleviate some of the staffing shortages that have created capacity shortages, forcing some patients to be transferred.

Recently, though, pressure on the state's hospitals has eased somewhat.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 cases has dropped slightly, with 1,187 patients receiving noncritical care, a one-day decrease of 5%.

An additional 358 were in intensive care units, a decrease of one from the previous day.

Statewide, 90% of the 1,212 ICU beds are in use.

Nursing home residents are also a priority for the vaccine because they tend to have more underlying medical issues that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.

Once all the highest priority populations are vaccinated, the state's vaccination efforts will move on to residents of assisted-living homes and other health care workers in clinics, urgent care and dialysis centers.

Most of the shots will be given on-site.

It could be several months before the vaccine is widely available. People should be able to get the vaccine at pharmacies and clinics.

"It is going to take a while before we can get vaccine for everyone who wants it," state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said Tuesday.

Since COVID-19 was first detected in the state in March, 363,719 have tested positive for the virus. Of those, 320,233 are considered to be no longer infectious and don't need to be isolated.

A total of 39,591 test results were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health Tuesday, a one-day increase of 44%.

Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192