MDH: Virus circulating nearly entirely among unvaccinated people; delta variant accounts for vast majority of cases

For the first time in weeks, officials from the Minnesota Department of Health gave a briefing on the state’s COVID-19 situation as the spread of the delta variant continues to be a point of concern.

The main message in Monday’s briefing: The increase in cases is driven almost entirely by unvaccinated people catching the delta variant, which now accounts for three-fourths of all new cases, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

Malcolm said just a few weeks ago, "new COVID cases each day were less than 100 and now, as of last Friday, there are more than 400 new cases, and the vast majority are from the delta variant,” said Malcolm. “And, that’s just a sobering reminder that we’re certainly not done with this pandemic as much as we would like it to be.”

"Breakthrough" cases among vaccinated people remain rare. Malcolm said 99.9% of Minnesotans who are fully vaccinated have not contracted the coronavirus.

Health officials said the breakthrough cases are well within the range they expected from the vaccines, which are not quite 100% effective at preventing infection. In those rare cases, COVID-19 remains far less severe for patients.

"We still have a lot of virus circulating, and the virus that is circulating more and more often is this highly contagious variant that is going to find those who are not protected and infect them at much higher rates," Malcolm said. "… We don’t want to give the virus the opportunity to evolve in ways that will or could in the future be more troublesome than what we’ve even seen so far."

Gov. Tim Walz said the spread of the delta variant has not been severe enough yet to trigger a return to some of the pandemic restrictions put in place last year. MDH officials echoed that stance, saying getting the vaccine remains the most effective way to keep the virus at bay.

Malcolm said the state is hoping to get more detailed guidance from the federal government in the coming days about mask mandates for young children as they head back to school soon and she also said the state is hopeful that emergency authorization for children under the age of 12 to get vaccinated will happen before the end of the year.