COVID-19 briefing: Rising cases could have widespread impact, early state vaccine plan submitted to CDC

Wednesday, state health leaders addressed the COVID-19 outlook in the state as fall continues and winter approaches, as well as vaccine preparation progress, among other virus-related topics.

Here’s what was discussed:

Situation in Minnesota

Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported 35 new COVID-19 deaths, which tied with May 28 for the most reported in a single day during the pandemic.

So far, 2,281 people have died of COVID-19 in Minnesota. Twelve of those cumulative deaths are listed as probable COVID-19 deaths, according to MDH.

MDH also reported 1,082 new positive COVID-19 tests Wednesday. Of those newly reported cases, 14 are noted as probable cases.

The 1,082 newly reported positive COVID-19 cases in Minnesota reported on Wednesday moved the state’s total to 126,591 since pandemic record-keeping began.

MDH reported nearly 16,000 tests were processed Tuesday.

MDH reports record-high 35 new COVID-19 deaths, 1,082 new cases

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm reiterated Wednesday that health officials are noticing a shift in the pandemic in the state in recent months, which is that different transmissions are contributing to the virus’ spread. Malcolm said “virus fatigue” is a real phenomenon and that health officials are seeing more Minnesotans getting together with family and friends and not necessarily adhering to all health guidelines.

“While we celebrate the fact that our health care providers and researchers have made really genuine progress in getting better at treating COVID cases, we do need to understand that more cases are going to lead to more people with serious disease, potentially with longterm complications we are only beginning to understand, more people in the hospital and more deaths,” Malcolm said. “We have to brace ourselves for that.”

Malcolm went on to state, “COVID doesn’t just happen to the one person who gets infected … A decision to not stay home when ill, to not get tested, or to go to a gathering, to not wear a mask, isn’t just about you. It’s about all of us. It’s about the entire state and the next few months we’re going to have.”

KSTP’s complete COVID-19 coverage

Malcolm added that if an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and clinic visits occurs, that can affect those who are going for other types of care. Increases in cases could continue to affect schools and learning plans, and the state’s workforce, Malcolm said.

“In years to come, we all want to be able to look back and say that even though we may not have agreed on every policy or every decision, we did our part, so that our elderly family members and neighbors would stay healthy and alive, so he child with asthma could go to school, so our businesses could stay open and operate safely,” Malcolm said.

Vaccine planning progresses

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said the conversation surrounding a COVID-19 vaccine has been ongoing for months, adding that research and development so far has been “impressive.”

Ehresmann said, currently, there are four vaccines in advanced trials.

Here are some of the vaccine topics health officials addressed during the conference call Wednesday:

What is the state’s vaccine draft plan? Ehresmann said it is important to have a plan in place in Minnesota so the state can be ready to implement the vaccine when it is available. As a result, Ehresmann said that, late last week, state health officials submitted draft vaccine plans to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those draft plans cover a range of topics, including vaccine storage, allocation and use in critical populations, Ehresmann said.

When might a COVID-19 vaccine be available in Minnesota? Although it’s too early to say exactly how soon a vaccine would be made available to Minnesotans, Ehresmann said she believes one or two of those in advanced trials may come in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, Laura Schwartzwald, the co-founder of GuidePoint Pharmacy, said it is likely the COVID-19 vaccine will be a two-dose vaccine.

What is the cost? Ehresmann said the expectation is that the COVID-19 vaccine will be provided to Minnesotans at no charge to them.

What is the vaccine prioritization plan? Ehresmann said the vaccine will be first be given to those most at risk, health care workers, emergency responders, and other front line workers. Christine Lees, with Dakota County Public Health, said state health officials are currently working to determine who will provide vaccines to these high-priority groups.

How might the vaccine be distributed? Currently, Ehresmann said federal government and local health officials are looking at distributing the vaccine in three phases. First, the vaccine would be distributed to targeted groups in closed settings. Ehresmann said the first phase could take a while since it focuses on getting the vaccine to all “essential and mission-critical” staff, as well as those at highest risk for COVID-19 complications. She added that additional phases in the vaccine distribution plan have yet to be fully formed and said additional information is expected.

Meanwhile, Lees said another key area of distribution planning is how to provide the vaccine to hard-to-reach populations in communities throughout the state, including the uninsured and underinsured.

Ehresmann said health officials are working to ensure distribution is fair and reflect Minnesota’s priorities and values.

Are there any current concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccines undergoing trials? Malcolm said state health leaders are tracking what’s happening at the national level and that they are “reassured by what we are seeing.” She said state health leaders are committed to administering a vaccine that is safe and effective. Ehresmann added that if state health leaders had concerns, they would make Minnesotans aware of those concerns.

Listen to the full news conference via the video player below: