Minnesota reports 761 new COVID-19 cases, 9 more deaths Wednesday

Minnesota health officials reported 761 new COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths Wednesday.

The state has now seen 480,845 cases and 6,443 deaths since the start of the pandemic. So far, 4,040 of those deaths have been residents in longterm care facilties.

The nine newly reported deaths were people ranging from age 60 to 94. Two were residents in longterm care facilities.

Wednesday also marked the second straight day where ICU cases and hospitalizations have gone up. There are currently 59 cases in the ICU, and hospitalizations are up to 233.

Meanwhile, according to health officials, just over 42 percent of Minnesota seniors have had at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Wednesday, 770,021 Minnesotans have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, though state data lags by approximately three days.

Gov. Tim Walz says he will announce within days the next priority groups to get the COVID-19 vaccine, without waiting until senior citizens are fully vaccinated. Walz said administration officials are debating whether to make the move once 60 percent of seniors are vaccinated, or 70 percent, or 80 percent.

The 761 new cases were out of 19,822 tests, a 3.8 percent positivity rate. MDH says that anything over 5 percent is a concern.

On Wednesday, U.S. regulators announced that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine protects against COVID-19.

Vaccine production increases

Minnesota could receive a total of 4 million doses by the end of March under production goals outlined by vaccine manufacturers to Congress on Tuesday. The state has received 1.3 million doses to date.

Executives from Pfizer and Moderna told the House Energy and Commerce committee that they would ship 120 million and 100 million doses, respectively, by the end of March. That would be enough to inoculate 110 million people, because the vaccines are a two-shot regimen.

A Johnson & Johnson executive told lawmakers that the company would have 20 million doses by the end of March after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's emergency authorization, which is expected later this week. J&J's vaccine is a single shot, meaning every vaccine produced would inoculate a person.

Minnesota's share of the federal allocation is 1.69 percent. The 4 million doses would be enough to fully vaccinate 2.2 million people, because all but the limited J&J vaccines would require two shots.

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy 

Walz said the federal government is providing a longer-range forecast of vaccine allocations, and the state will use that to create a timeline for when more groups will be eligible.

"I know everyone wants to get this (vaccine)," the governor said. "What I want to be able to give you is, everybody in Minnesota can see an approximate date of when they're going to fall into this."

The Walz administration is partnering with 29 community groups to overcome vaccine hesitancy in lower-income and minority populations ahead of the broader rollout.

Some community groups said English-only instructions and mistrust of the government remain barriers.

"That is something we've been fighting against," said Rodolfo Gutierrez, executive director of Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research, or HACER. "We need to tell them it's MDH (the Minnesota Department of Health). MDH is trying to bring you health."

For more information on the state's Vaccine Connector website, click here.