'Minnesota is at a key point' as variants race against vaccinations

Nora G. Hertel
St. Cloud Times

The more COVID-19 circulates, the greater the chance that it will mutate, said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health. 

Some of those mutations, called variants, are already responsible for outbreaks and rising COVID-19 numbers in parts of the state. 

"We are at a pivot point in the pandemic right now," said Ehresmann, on a Friday call with reporters, as she cautioned against spring break travel amid the spread of virus variants. 

"We suspect our current growth is being driven in large part by circulation of the new variants of the virus, particularly the B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom," she said. "We are also concerned that there may be some degree of pandemic fatigue at play."

RELATED: COVID-19 variant outbreaks in Minnesota lead to call for more testing in youth sports

More than 100 central Minnesotans were added to the COVID-19 case count Friday, according to the daily report from the Minnesota Department of Health. 

Minnesota added 1,449 cases and nine COVID-19-related deaths in Friday's report. 

The state has administered more than 2 million vaccine doses to more than 1.3 million people. 

Leana DeJesus is given the COVID-19 vaccine by Donna Sutton during a vaccination clinic Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe's Ne-Ia-Shing Clinic in Onamia.

"We don't yet have enough Minnesotans vaccinated to have broad community-level protection or what we sometimes refer to as herd immunity," Ehresmann said. "That day will come soon. But we are not there yet."

The total number of Minnesotans who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus reached 502,893 cases on Friday and 6,771 people have died, according to MDH. 

Stearns County gained 41 cases on Friday. Benton County gained 11, and Sherburne County gained 51. 

The deaths on Friday are tied to Aitkin, Anoka, Blue Earth, Dakota, Hennepin, Meeker, Ramsey and Scott counties. 

"Minnesota is at a key point in the course of the pandemic," said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm Friday. "More and more people are getting the protection of the vaccines. But there are still many who are not yet vaccinated."

There are currently 316 people being treated for COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals, 74 of them in intensive care, Malcolm said. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 26,578 people have required hospitalization in the state, including 5,478 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the number of Minnesotans who reported consistently wearing masks has dropped from 80% earlier this year to 75%, Ehresmann said Friday, citing data from the University of Washington. If the state can increase the number of consistent mask wearers to 95%, that can save as many as 140 lives by summer.

"Unlike vaccine supply from the federal government, this masking coverage is something entirely within the control of Minnesotans," Ehresmann said. She reminded people to limit the size of indoor gatherings and maintain social distance at gatherings inside and out. 

People who plan to travel or gather with others should quarantine for two weeks before and after those get-togethers, especially those leaving the state. 

"We need to be cautious a little while longer," Ehresmann said. 

READ MORE:MDH guidance for travelers

Here are the latest totals in the counties around St. Cloud: 

  • Stearns County: 19,211 cases and 208 deaths. 36,253 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.
  • Benton County: 4,723 cases and 95 deaths. 6,270 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.
  • Sherburne County: 9,134 cases and 77 deaths. 13,942 have received at least one dose of vaccine. 

Globally, there are nearly 122 million cases of COVID-19, including nearly 30 million in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center. Nearly 2.7 million people have died of the infection worldwide, including nearly 540,000 people in the U.S.

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