REGIONAL- As weekly COVID-19 vaccination totals statewide tumbled for a second consecutive week, Gov. Tim Walz refused to buy into a suggestion that the decline could be tied to hesitancy among some …
REGIONAL- As weekly COVID-19 vaccination totals statewide tumbled for a second consecutive week, Gov. Tim Walz refused to buy into a suggestion that the decline could be tied to hesitancy among some to get the vaccine.
Providers administered 318,107 shots last week, down more than 87,000 from the first full week since vaccines have been offered to anyone over age 16. The pattern of a rapid increase followed by a decline is similar to what the state has experienced with previous eligibility expansions.
Speaking to reporters during a tour of a new mobile vaccination bus in Richfield on Tuesday, Walz said that the issue is access and not reluctance.
“We’re past four million shots,” Walz said. “People aren’t hesitant to get the vaccine. They’re just really busy, or it’s not convenient for them to get it, or they don’t have a computer (to register for appointments) or a car or something.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor reports that 13 percent of Americans say they will not get vaccinated, one percent higher than the Minnesota hesitancy rate reported in a recent government survey. The resistance is highest among Republicans, KFF reported, with three out of ten rejecting the shots. The resistance among rural Republican men is higher still at 35 percent. When Walz was queried about possible resistance in politically conservative areas of the state, he acknowledged he needed help to promote vaccinations.
“I need Republican legislators to help me, if there’s resistance, to tell their constituents,” he said. “If I tell some of those counties ‘It’s Tuesday’ they’ll disagree with me. That’s just where we’re at.”
Reinforcing the message of access, Walz announced on Monday that people could begin making their own vaccination appointments for openings at the state-operated Community Vaccination Program sites, including the one at the DECC in Duluth.
“The Community Vaccination Program is a key component of our vaccination network, ensuring Minnesotans around the state are able to easily get their shots in trusted and familiar locations,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan in a press release. “Today, everyone will be able to directly sign up for an easy, free, and safe appointment at these locations. We’re working hard to make getting vaccinated as easy as possible, and now we just need you to roll up your sleeves, get your shot, and help end this pandemic.”
Walz took a moment on Tuesday to acknowledge the third COVID-19 death of a child in Minnesota.
“Yesterday reminded us we’re not done with this,” he said. “The tragedy of a little first grader losing her life to COVID weighs heavily on all of us. Every person who gets a shot reduces the chance of that happening.”
Around 250 children nationwide have died from COVID-19, with 75 percent of them being children of color. Children under age 16 are currently ineligible to be vaccinated, although trials are underway that could clear children ages 12-15 to begin receiving shots soon.
The Centers for Disease Control issued revised guidance on Tuesday that permits fully vaccinated people to go maskless for many outside activities and indicated that it is “safe for those who are fully vaccinated to return to the activities they love doing inside while wearing a mask.”
A person is fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two weeks after receiving the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The new recommendations say fully vaccinated individuals can engage in the following activities without wearing masks:
• Walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with members of their household (also OK for unvaccinated people).
• Attending small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends (also OK for unvaccinated people).
• Attending small outdoor gatherings with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
• Dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households.
Fully vaccinated people can also attend “a crowded, outdoor event, like a live performance, parade, or sports event,” as long as they remain masked, according to a CDC infographic of the new guidelines.
Health Commissoner Jan Malcolm welcomed the news.
“It’s common sense,” she said. “It’s reflecting what a lot of people are already doing. They’re just clarifying and validating what we’ve known all along. Indoors, (masking) continues to be a good idea.”
Last week, the health department allowed school athletes to begin competing without wearing masks, although they continue to have to wear them when they are not directly competing, such as a baseball team gathered in a dugout.
Bois Forte outbreak
The coronavirus was unkind in March to Ely area residents, but in April concern has shifted to the Bois Forte Reservation, where 20 new COVID cases had been reported for the month as of Tuesday.
Midway through the month, only four cases had been recorded, all in the Vermilion sector. The counts began escalating on April 19 with three new cases, followed by four more on April 20. Nett Lake now accounts for three of the seven.
By Monday, nine more cases, all but one at Vermilion, brought the total to 20 within less than three weeks.
Having started its vaccination efforts with its elders, infections at Bois Forte mirror the statewide experience with cases skewing toward younger age brackets. Seven cases have been identified in children age nine and younger. The others range from one teenager to two adults in their 50s.
“Bois Forte Health is engaged in contact tracing and will follow up with those suspected of having recent contact with the individuals who tested positive,” health officials said in a Tuesday release. “The Band is coordinating with the Minnesota Department of Health regarding positive cases on-Reservation to ensure a robust and thorough public health response.”
While Bois Forte cases are reflected in the totals St. Louis County reports to the state, differences in reporting periods and lag times affect when those cases appear in the weekly cases reported each Thursday by MDH.
As of Thursday, April 22, Bois Forte cases had yet to have an impact on zip codes monitored by the Timberjay. Six new cases over the prior week were reported in Ely and three new cases were identified in Tower. No new cases were reported in Orr, Cook, Soudan, or Embarrass.
As of April 21, the most current data available on the St. Louis County COVID dashboard, the seven-day average of daily cases in the northern region of the county had more than doubled in only six days, jumping from 9.7 to 23. During the same time frame the rate for the county as a whole continued a downward trend that began on April 10, dropping from 26 to 21.8.