COVID-19 vaccines, relief package and cases in Minnesota

Here are the latest developments on coronavirus spread in Minnesota, vaccine shipments, and the COVID relief bill.

Listen live: State health officials provide an update to the current COVID-19 situation

  • Seven-day positivity rate at 8.9{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9}
  • State has surpassed 5 million tests since the pandemic began
  • Cases, hospitalizations and deaths down in Minnesota
  • Deal reached on $900 billion COVID relief bill with $600 stimulus checks and $300 per week supplemental unemployment, vote imminent
  • First Moderna vaccines expected to be administered today
  • December is already Minnesota’s deadliest month of the pandemic
  • UK faces travel bans over new strain of virus

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm began the call discussing the state’s declining seven-day positivity rates, which has dipped below the high-risk level. The current seven-day positivity rate is at 8.9{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9}.

“There genuinely are pieces of good news in these data,” Malcolm said. “As what will be a massive vaccination effort slowly ramps up, we’ve seen a downward trend in cases and hospitalizations.”

Malcolm also acknowledged the positive impact the new safety measures have had on slowing the spread, including those guidelines that were in place over Thanksgiving.

“We want to acknowledge that and thank Minnesotans for their actions, which have clearly created some very important respite for our health systems and hospitals as they have really been working so hard at maximizing capacity at every turn,” Malcolm said.

Malcolm shared some statistics from a new study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week. It found that among Americans between the ages of 25 and 44, between March through the end of July, there were almost 12,000 more deaths than would have been expected based on historical norms. Malcolm says that trend continued into the fall. 

The study says that it was estimated that around 154,000 deaths were expected in that age group for 2020, but that number was surpassed in November and is expected to reach 170,000 deaths by the end of the year due to COVID-19.

“We have a tendency to think of COVID-19 as a disease primarily, or almost exclusively, very serious for older adults, but this is a reminder that adults in these younger age groups can still be severely impacted by COVID-19,” Malcolm said.

According to Malcolm, Minnesota surpassed 5 million COVID-19 tests over the weekend, saying it’s a major milestone in terms of the state’s testing capacity ability.

As the holidays approach this week, Malcolm continued to urge Minnesotans to be safe and vigilant by avoiding any larger gatherings with family or friends.

“If you are planning to see family or friends outside of your own immediate household, please do consider getting tested,” she said. “We know young people are more likely to be asymptomatic carriers and have an increased risk of exposing others without knowing it, so we really encourage folks to take advantage of the many testing options that are available to you.”

Testing sites will be closed Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, as well as Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann discussed the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the state. According to Ehresmann, the Minnesota Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee will meet again next week and again in January, with the official recommendations for prioritization in rollout Phase 1B coming out on Jan. 18.

“As you know, we want to make sure that all Minnesotans have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and that’s our commitment, but because we don’t have as much vaccine as we want initially, we do need to make prioritizations,” Ehresmann said. “Depending on the weekly shipping amount that we receive, we hope to be through vaccinating Phase 1A by the end of January, but that is entirely dependent on the allocation that we receive from the federal government.”

Gov. Tim Walz is holding a roundtable discussion to encourage high schoolers to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

“Let’s be clear,” Walz said on the virtual roundtable on Monday. “All of these young people who are working are paying taxes and being part of the system, too.”

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said she knows what it is like to work while trying to balance the demands of high school, and that situation is even more stressful now for families who depend on student workers.

“I know that the stress and anxiety that this pandemic has created for everyone has impacted all of you all the more so,” Flanagan said.

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said his department has been working hard to make sure young people can apply for unemployment just like older adults, since an appeals court ruled to allow Minnesota young people to receive benefits under the CARES Act.

“We already are making payments to young people,” Grove said. He said DEED is already processing about 10,000 applications.

Minnesota youth can apply on the regular unemployment website,

Grove acknowledged that the next step is repealing the 1939 law that does not allow young people to collect unemployment, which still applies during non-pandemic times.

“This is an antiquated law if there ever was one,” he said.

Grove said his department stands with young people who want the law changed.

“DEED stands ready to partner with you on this one,” he said. “If you’re old enough to work, you’re old enough to get the benefits you’re entitled to when you can’t work.”

One young person who works to support her family, Ramah Farah, spoke on the governor’s roundtable. She said she’s been working since she was 14 years old. Farah said there is a misconception that young people work to afford luxuries or to have spending money.

“The reality for a lot of students is that we use it to pay for bills, we use it to put food on the table for our families,” she said.

Eighteen-year-old Cole Stevens said he’s looking forward to hopefully repealing the law next year.

“We’ve been able to create a bridge here with the PUA benefits,” he said. “I think that’s really important relief that families need, and for me personally, it’s been very, very meaningful to me.”

Stevens said he’s been working since he was 14, as well.

“I’ve been working to play a very pivotal role in getting our basic needs met ever since I was 16,” he said.

Steven said he applied for unemployment during the pandemic, and was unaware that he wasn’t legally eligible. He was paid by DEED and then asked to repay the money – but he didn’t have it anymore.

“Why would I, a taxpaying, working citizen be treated differently and be penalized for trying to get my education?” he said. “How ironic is it that (high schoolers) would receive the benefits if they dropped out?”

Walz congratulated the young people who brought this issue to light, saying he believes many Minnesotans were unaware of the challenges facing the young people in the state.

“Most legislators did not know about the 1939 law,” he said.

On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases in nearly two months.

Just 1,998 new cases have been reported in the last day in Minnesota, the lowest number since Oct. 28. Of those, 1,858 were identified by PCR tests – considered “confirmed” – and 140 by antigen tests, considered probable.

Testing volume was on the lower end across the state with 33,391 tests administered in the past 24 hours – 31,871 PCR and 1,520 antigen – but that number is comparable to several other days over the past two weeks.

Deaths were also substantially lower on Monday, with 22 reported in the past 24 hours. That’s the lowest number in a week.

Hospitalizations due to COVID are down slightly in Minnesota, with 1,040 in total across the state as of Sunday, the latest data available. That includes 237 people in ICU beds.

After reaching a deal on a $900 billion COVID relief bill, Congress was expected to vote on Monday. The treasury secretary said stimulus checks could begin arriving before the end of the year.

The first Moderna vaccines were also expected to be administered Monday, after shipments went out Sunday. Minnesota health officials have said that they expect nearly 95,000 doses of the vaccine in their first shipment.

The Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (WDHS) reported 1,826 new cases Sunday, bringing the total number of cases statewide to 457,177.

Health officials reported 18 new deaths on Sunday as the total number of fatalities in Wisconsin rose to 4,417, which is approximately 1{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of those testing positive for the virus.  

Due to high case numbers, Gov. Tony Evers issued a new emergency order mandating indoor face coverings on Friday, Nov. 20 that will last 60 days.

On Oct. 6, Gov. Evers’ administration issued a new order limiting the size of public indoor gatherings to 25{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of capacity, to stem the spread of COVID-19. That order was struck down on Oct. 13 by a judge in Sawyer County. The order was reinstated on Oct. 19 by a Barron County judge, but on Oct. 23, a Wisconsin appeals court put a hold on the order.

Wisconsin health officials say a total of 20,120 people have been hospitalized from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, about 4.4{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of the total number of people who have been diagnosed with the virus.  

Of the confirmed cases in Wisconsin, 19{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} involve people between the ages of 20 to 29, 16{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} are between 30 and 39, 15{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} are between 50 and 59, and 14{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} are 40 to 49. An estimated 11{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} are between 10 and 19, and another 11{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} are between 60 and 69.

As of Sunday, Milwaukee County reported the largest number of confirmed cases with 80,978, along with 905 deaths. Waukesha County has reported 32,265 confirmed cases and 305 deaths, Dane County has reported 31,640 confirmed cases and 136 deaths, and Brown County has reported 25,110 cases and 156 deaths.

A more detailed breakdown of cases by county can be found on the DHS website.

RELATED: Live updates: MDH reports 2,705 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, 70 deaths

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported 2,705 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, along with 70 new deaths.

MDH’s COVID-19 case definition includes both antigen testing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Positive PCR test results are considered confirmed cases, while positive antigen test results are considered probable cases.  

Sunday’s new case total includes 2,528 confirmed cases and 177 probable cases.

RELATED: What are the different types of coronavirus tests?

The total number of Minnesotans who have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began is now 397,319, with 12,049 of those as antigen test results. 

MDH says 70 new deaths from the virus were reported, which pushes the total number of fatalities in Minnesota to 4,850.

To date, 20,547 Minnesotans have been hospitalized with the coronavirus since the pandemic started, with 4,412 of them needing care in the ICU.

MDH reports that 369,912 people once diagnosed with the virus have recovered enough that they no longer need isolation.

Of those who have tested positive, people between the ages of 20-24 account for the most cases with 40,806 cases and three deaths, and ages 25-29 follow with
35,697 cases and six deaths. Those between 85 and 89 years old account for the highest number of fatalities in one age group with 918 out of 5,241 cases.

In terms of likely exposure to the coronavirus, MDH says 82,393 cases were the result of community transmission with no known contact with an infected person, and 75,721 had known contact with a person who has a confirmed case.

A total of 32,762 cases involved exposure in a congregate living setting,
6,890 were in a corrections setting, and 820 were in a homeless shelter. MDH data shows 17,020 were linked to an outbreak outside of congregate living or health care.

MDH says 24,238 cases were linked to travel. Health care workers or patients account for 11,384 of diagnosed COVID-19 cases. The source of transmission for 146,091 cases is still unknown or missing.

MDH has prioritized testing for people in congregate care, hospitalized patients and health care workers, which may impact the scale of those numbers. However, now MDH is urging anyone who is symptomatic or even asymptomatic to be tested. Testing locations can be found online.

Hennepin County has the most COVID activity in the state with 82,734 cases and 1,313 deaths, followed by Ramsey County with 35,491 cases and 631 deaths, Dakota County with 28,677 cases and 255 deaths and Anoka County with 27,829 cases and 291 deaths.

Full data, including a breakdown of PCR and antigen test totals in some categories, can be found on MDH’s website.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a data portal online at