MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota exceeded more than 2,000 daily cases of the coronavirus on Thursday for the first time in months as cases in recent weeks continue to trend upward.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 2,140 new cases and 12 more people have died due to the coronavirus, putting the state's totals at 521,667 cases and 6,860 deaths since the start of the pandemic. More than 400 patients are hospitalized due to COVID-19, including 105 in intensive care.
State health officials said case growth is being driven by more contagious mutations of the coronavirus, specifically a variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom in January. Officials expressed concern over growth in cases and hospitalizations due to transmission of the variant within communities across the state as the test positivity rate climbed over the caution threshold of 5% earlier this week.
State epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said during a briefing Thursday that the state estimates between 54% and 66% of nearly 2,600 positive samples between March 22 and March 27 were found to be the variant. Lynfield urged the public to continue following public health guidelines in mitigating spread of the virus to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We are all tired of this virus and the restrictions it has brought on, but we need to act now," Lynfield said. "We need to work together to tackle this virus because our individual choices and actions impact our neighbors."
As of Tuesday, more than 1.68 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and more than 1.05 million have been fully inoculated. About 38% of all Minnesotans 16 and older — including 82% of seniors — have received at least one dose, according to the state's dashboard.
State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said Thursday that Minnesota will not be affected by the loss of 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that were discarded due to quality issues. The state is expecting to receive nearly 212,000 doses from the federal government this weekend — an increase from about 167,000 doses the week before.
Ehresmann said demand for the vaccine still outpaces supply after the state opened up eligibility to all Minnesotans 16 and older earlier this week, but state officials are planning outreach campaigns for the point in the future when hesitancy may become an impediment to reaching the state's goal of 80% of the population vaccinated.
"We want to make sure that we're putting information out there to let them know how safe and effective the vaccines are, and how important it is that they're vaccinated and what a difference that will ultimately make for them, for their family and for their community," she said.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.