REGIONAL- Minnesota data reflects a recent nationwide trend of declining COVID-19 vaccinations, but with 59 percent of those 16 and over in the state having received at least one dose of vaccine as …
REGIONAL- Minnesota data reflects a recent nationwide trend of declining COVID-19 vaccinations, but with 59 percent of those 16 and over in the state having received at least one dose of vaccine as of Sunday, Gov. Tim Walz appears poised to lift more restrictions this week.
During a Tuesday tour of Alice Smith Elementary School in Hopkins to promote funding for summer school programs, Walz indicated that a revision of COVID-19 restrictions is imminent.
“Thursday’s announcement should go a long way, I think, toward moving things forward. I think Minnesotans should start assuming they’re going to have a very normal-looking summer,” Walz said.
While Walz gave no specific details about possible changes, he indicated that steady progress toward reaching a goal of having 70 percent of eligible Minnesotans fully vaccinated sometime in June would be a significant milestone in reopening the state.
However, that progress could be slowing, based on information from the Minnesota Department of Health.
From a high point of more than 405,000 doses administered in the week beginning April 4, the first full week of eligibility for those 16 and older, last week’s total doses dropped by 32 percent to just over 276,000. State health officials acknowledged Tuesday that people getting second doses make up a large percentage of the doses administered, rather than new people coming to get vaccinated.
“In recent days, on any given day, we’ve been seeing more people getting second doses than new people getting first doses,” Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “But that first dose number does continue to increase.”
State infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann didn’t have a breakdown of last week’s vaccinations, but did provide insight for about 11,000 doses posted to the state vaccine website on Tuesday.
“The bottom line is that that included 4,000 first doses and 7,000 second doses,” she said. “We’re glad that people are continuing to get that second dose, but as we talked about, we’re at a phase where the first doses have slowed, and we need to retool and redirect our efforts to much more targeted outreach.”
Malcolm noted that one strategy would be to start making vaccinations available in conjunction with popular community activities, such as fairs and sporting events, “some of the things people are eager to go to, to make it easy for them to also get a vaccine.”
In another sign of slowing demand for vaccinations, 80 Walmart pharmacies across the state have started offering walk-in vaccinations, while still providing appointments for those who want them.
Falling requests for vaccine from numerous states prompted the Biden administration to announce a new distribution plan on Tuesday. Surplus vaccines due to declining orders will be put into a vaccine bank so that states with greater need can increase how much they receive. The administration also set a revised goal of getting at least one shot into the arms of 70 percent of eligible Americans by July 4. Currently, that number stands at roughly 56 percent.
Malcolm said it was too early to know if Minnesota would be affected by the revisions to Biden’s plan.
More youths eligible
Malcolm responded positively to widely-reported news that federal officials may next week approve the Pfizer vaccine for youths 12- to 15-years-old.
“Given a significant number of cases we have seen in middle and high school-aged kids recently, this expansion would be a really welcomed development and a significant step forward to make it that much harder for this virus to continue circulating and infecting people,” she said.
Those 19-and-under represent 26 percent of new COVID cases identified since April 1, the day after vaccine eligibility was expanded.
“We’ve seen the increase in variants of concern circulating in Minnesota, and some of the initial activity was seen associated with youth activities with our sports ecosystem,” Ehresmann said. “That allowed for the transmission of a variant that was known to be easier to spread within that population. The Pfizer vaccine is available for individuals 16 and older, and we really want to encourage that age group to take advantage of that vaccine.”
Ehresmann pointed to the crisis conditions in India with COVID infections and deaths as she cautioned people about travel and its role in allowing the spread of coronavirus variants that can be more infectious and possibly more resistant to vaccinations.
“The unfortunate pattern we’ve seen is that variants developing elsewhere in the world tend to spread to new locations when people travel, and then these variants gain a foothold in our communities. Minnesota is no exception,” she said.
Just in the last week, 65 cases have been identified involving a variant first identified in Brazil. The UK variant has been acknowledged as the source for 60 to 65 percent of recent infections in the state. Ehresmann mentioned a recent cluster of cases associated with travel to Mexico.
“Given that Mexico is a favorite destination for many in the upper Midwest, we need to reiterate that it remains a high-risk location,” Ehresmann said.
A recent surge of cases on the Bois Forte Reservation appears to be on the decline, according to recent health updates posted to the tribe’s website. Only three new COVID cases have been reported, each on separate days, over the past week.
Due to differences in reporting practices, a surge of 12 cases in the Tower zip code reported on April 29 was anticipated, reflecting cases already diagnosed in the Vermilion sector of the Bois Forte Reservation. Seven new cases were identified in Ely and four in Embarrass, while Cook saw one additional case.
The numbers align with county and statewide patterns of declining COVID infections in recent weeks, although the seven-day daily case average for northern St. Louis County remains in the escalating community spread category at 19.5, just slightly higher than the 18.8 mark for the county as a whole.