The number of Minnesotans hospitalized for COVID-19 has dropped to levels not seen since late April, reflecting the continued decline of at least the first wave of the pandemic.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported that 353 people were hospitalized for the infectious disease caused by a novel coronavirus — including 186 people needing intensive care. The state also reported six COVID-19 deaths and 230 lab-confirmed cases, bringing totals so far in the pandemic to 1,304 deaths and 30,693 cases.

The majority of COVID-19 deaths have been in Minnesotans who are aged 70 or older, or who have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or diseases of the lungs, kidneys, heart or immune system. And 1,034 of the deaths involved residents of long-term care or assisted-living facilities in Minnesota.

The declining hospital numbers are encouraging. On May 28, the state reported 606 COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. Major metro hospitals in the Twin Cities had reported running out of intensive care beds around that time, due in part to the peak of COVID-19 cases but also the resumption of non-critical surgeries. Many patients recovering after surgeries need ICU care.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that hospitalizations will be a key metric to assess the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers of lab-confirmed cases alone can be distorted by changes in testing volumes.

Minnesota reported another 5,031 tests on Sunday — well below the average of more than 10,000 tests in recent days. Daily figures reported by the Minnesota Department of Health on Mondays have typically been lower during the pandemic than other days of the week, though.

Even so, the single-digit number of deaths from COVID-19 is the lowest reported in Minnesota since April 13.

Positive trends in Minnesota appear to be coming amid a worsening national picture with respect to the pandemics. Increases in cases and, in some states, hospitalizations has raised concerns about a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Case growth in some states such as Arizona came after the end of statewide stay-at-home orders.

Iowa was switched from “making progress” to “trending poorly” on the COVID Exit Strategy website due to a 7% increase in reported COVID-19 cases over a recent 14-day period. North Dakota is trending poorly as well, while Minnesota is listed as making progress and Wisconsin remains as one of six states listed as “trending better.”

Declining growth in Minnesota’s case and death counts followed the end on May 18 of a statewide stay-at-home order that lasted 51 days. State health officials are continuing to monitor the impact of protests following the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody, though, for a possible increase.

Free testing is being offered on Tuesdays and Wednesday, primarily by appointment, for the next two weeks at four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul near protest sites. The state recommends testing for anyone involved in these mass protests, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms, due to their infection risks.

More than 3,200 people sought testing at these sites last week. Results from an initial group of about 1,300 produced positive COVID-19 tests in only 1.4% of cases. That was lower than the statewide rate on Friday of 3.7% of all tests identifying COVID-19 cases. Health officials said they expected a lower rate at the protest sites, though, due to the number of people seeking testing in the absence of symptoms.