MDH COVID-19 briefing: Recent data shows improvement yet virus transmission still at ‘high-risk’

On Tuesday, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology Kris Ehresmann addressed the recent COVID-19 pandemic in the state, vaccine distribution and what’s ahead for Wednesday.

Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz is expected to provide an update on restrictions for businesses and whether those restrictions will get extended. Walz has said it will depend on the community spread and hospitalizations, as both of those data points would need to drop.

"If we can work toward a smart and good plan, then the opportunity for fewer restrictions arises," Walz said during a news conference Tuesday morning.

Officials discuss COVID-19 vaccine plan at Minneapolis VA Health Care System

The Latest Data

Malcolm said more than 1,300 people are currently in hospitals with COVID-19 and 300 are in intensive care units as of Tuesday. She said that hospital beds in use due to COVID-19 increased slightly on Monday, and MDH will continue to monitor that data. The hospital admission rate is at 27.4%, which is down from a high of 36.4%. Malcolm credits Minnesotans for following guidance, noting the reason as to why data in some areas has dropped recently.

Additionally, Malcolm highlighted that the seven-day rolling positivity rate stands at 10.9%, adding that she’s is "hopeful" that it means better things are to come with this pandemic. The seven-day average is at its lowest since the last week of October.

As for Thanksgiving holiday data, Malcolm said that information could be learned still within this week or next.

Even with a majority of test indicators showing improvement, the state is still at a high-risk level. Current data shows the state is averaging 85.7 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, which is down from around 120 per 100,000. Ten new cases per day per 100,000 residents is considered a high-risk area, according to MDH.

Vaccine Updates

Ehresmann says about 2,000 doses of the state’s vaccine allocation arrived on Monday. A total of 184,600 doses is expected to arrive by the end of the year. A vast majority of the vaccine won’t be arriving at state hubs until later this week, as Ehresmann says training still needs to be done. She adds it will take a bit of time to distribute it to providers but "the wheels are in motion."

"We’ll be ready to hit the ground running," Ehresmann said.

Training and protocols are a crucial part of this process, as MDH is working to make it consumable for providers and ensure vaccinations are done correctly.

Ehresmann said vaccinations that begin tomorrow in comparison to doing them a few days later won’t change much in the grand scheme of things. She urges Minnesotans to continue to follow public health guidelines until the vaccine is more widely available. She added that it’s still unclear what role the vaccine will play in stopping transmission, making it important for people to still wear masks and social distance.

The Moderna vaccine will get an FDA evaluation on Thursday, where it is likely to receive emergency use authorization. Health officials in Minnesota are expecting a similar process as the Pfizer vaccine once the approval is official. MDH officials are expecting to receive more vaccine doses from Moderna than Pfizer.

More to note from the latest MDH briefing:

  • Malcolm urges Minnesotans to continue to treat Christmas like Thanksgiving, as gathering in groups can still lead to a sharp increase in community spread.
  • The MDH commissioner says she is more concerned about holiday shopping, as more people are expected to be in stores for a longer period of time in comparison to the average shopper. Health officials urge caution when shopping although it isn’t considered as high-risk as many other things.
  • Regarding the recent report of multiple businesses planning to reopen on Wednesday, Malcolm said it’s unfortunate that it has become a matter of safety versus supporting these businesses, as she thinks "it should be both." She adds that with the recent COVID-19 relief bill passed in the state Legislature and the possibility of another coming from Congress, businesses should soon see help. However, she still urged Minnesotans to support local businesses, just through takeout or to-go orders instead of in-person dining.