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COVID deaths rise but remain far below Minnesota's 2020 toll

1December 2021

November was Minnesota’s deadliest COVID-19 month of 2021 but remains well behind the toll at the peak of the pandemic last year.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday reported 100 more COVID-19 deaths, catching up with reporting after the holiday weekend and raising the toll for November to 628. While that exceeds the 575 COVID-19 deaths reported in October, it remains well behind monthly totals in the severe fall 2020 pandemic wave.

Minnesota reported 1,503 COVID-19 deaths in November 2020, more than double the total this November. While COVID-19 hospitalization numbers were much closer when comparing the two Novembers, state health officials said the substantial difference in deaths reflects the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine that wasn’t available until December 2020.

“We have 92% of our 65+ population completely vaccinated,” state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said in an e-mail. “And this is the group most susceptible to dying from COVID-19. So vaccination has taken a bite out of the deaths we are seeing in November.”

Minnesota has reported 9,482 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and 915,942 coronavirus infections, including 3,580 infections that were added to the total on Wednesday. While 86% of Minnesota’s COVID-19 deaths have been seniors, Ehresmann said the average age has declined in the latest wave and that the majority of younger COVID-19 deaths have been people who were unvaccinated.

Wednesday’s reported deaths included four people in their 40s from Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin and Stearns counties.

State leaders have urged unvaccinated Minnesotans to seek shots, and vaccinated adults to seek booster doses. Immunity appears to wane six months after vaccination, putting some of Minnesota’s earliest elderly and vulnerable recipients at risk. Minnesota ranks second among states with nearly 34% of vaccinated adults receiving boosters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota increased to 1,562 on Tuesday, bringing the state closer to the pandemic record of 1,864 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Nov. 29 last year. Observational data from local hospital systems show an increase in patients who are vaccinated, but that unvaccinated patients are still at greatest risk.

Minneapolis-based Allina Health reported that 298 of 397 of the COVID-19 patients admitted to its hospitals on Monday were unvaccinated. Among the 58 COVID-19 patients placed on ventilators, 53 were unvaccinated.

State health officials remain hopeful that a recent decline in COVID-19 test positivity could suggest a peak in the latest pandemic wave. The state on Wednesday reported a 10.4% test positivity rate that is down from a recent high of 11%.

The rate still remains above Minnesota’s high-risk threshold for substantial viral spread, though, and health officials said they are cautious about predicting any trends until the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend becomes clearer.

While Minnesota’s rate of new infections held steady over the past seven days, it dropped from first to fourth among states with the highest infection rates, according to the latest CDC data. Vermont, Michigan and New Hampshire now have higher rates, reflecting the latest coronavirus wave that was most severe in the South this summer but gradually moved north in the fall.

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