Minnesota drops out of COVID-19 high-risk level entirely

All Minnesota counties for the first time in weeks are below the federal high-risk COVID-19 level that carries an indoor mask-wearing recommendation.

An update Thursday evening by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found low COVID-19 levels in the Twin Cities and most of Minnesota — with only the northeastern corner of the state and a few small southwestern counties at moderate levels. The CDC designations warn communities when COVID-19 rates are pressuring local hospital capacities.

The federal data jibes with local indicators of a declining spring pandemic wave after a long COVID-19 winter. Total COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota rose slightly Wednesday to 396, but the patients needing intensive care because of severe complications from their infections declined to 28.

The latest wave hasn’t produced as high a rate of severe illness as prior COVID-19 waves, and health officials believe that is because of improving supplies of antiviral treatments and high levels of immunity because of recent infections or immunizations.

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday encouraged Minnesotans to take advantage of the new option to vaccinate children 6 months to 5 years of age. The state’s Mall of America vaccination site provided initial doses to 280 preschoolers on Wednesday and is doubling its appointment slots. Other providers such as HealthPartners are taking appointments Friday and providing their first shots.

“Now that the vaccine is here, we’re working hard to make it easy to find the shot,” Walz said.

Minnesota on Thursday reported 19 COVID-19 deaths and 4,587 infections, catching up on pandemic activity from the holiday weekend. The seven-day average of case and death trends has steadily declined during the past two months.

Risk remains elevated among seniors, who made up 16 of the COVID-19 deaths reported on Thursday and more than 80% of Minnesota’s total of 12,775 deaths.

At least 11 of the newly reported deaths involved residents of long-term care. COVID-19 cases related to congregate care facilities peaked at 602 in the first week of May but still averaged 450 per week the rest of the month, according to weekly state data released Thursday.