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Jan. 16 update on COVID-19 in MN: Falling numbers amid concerns about vaccine supply

Saturday January 16, 2021

Residents at the Gardens of Episcopal Homes social distance as they're monitored after getting a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 30, 2020, in St. Paul. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Minnesota health officials reported another 37 COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, pushing the overall pandemic death toll close to 5,900.

But averaged over the past week, the number of new cases and deaths reported each day continues to decline.

The latest update came a day after Minnesota officials excited about expanding the pool of people eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine got a jolt after learning the federal government doesn’t have the supplies it promised to do the job.

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State health leaders on Thursday had given the OK to hospitals and other health care providers to vaccinate a wider group of Minnesotans, including people age 65 and older and those most susceptible to the disease after the Trump administration urged states to immediately expand eligibility.

The feds were believed to have doses stockpiled and ready for release to the states. But the bottom fell out of all those plans Friday.

Federal officials confirmed a Washington Post report that vaccine reserves were gone, making it extremely unlikely that Minnesota or any other state will see its allocation jump anytime soon.

That’s left Minnesota officials angry, and reevaluating their own plans.

"I have been frustrated at times beyond belief, but this one is so far beyond the pale to be almost unimaginable. And I’m going to call it,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Friday.

“Where did they go? Who's going to be prosecuted for this?” Walz asked aloud. “What are the states to do when they've been lied to and made all their plans around this?”

The governor said he’s looked into whether Minnesota could buy doses of vaccine directly from the manufacturers rather than wait for federal authorities but added that it would be “super expensive to do it” and it’s not clear that governors even have that power.

About 500,000 doses have been shipped to Minnesota so far to health providers and the federal program for long-term care facility vaccinations, according to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard website; more than 174,000 Minnesotans have received at least one dose so far.

While the improving trends look good following an awful November and December — when new cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked — public health leaders still don’t believe the state is in the clear. They believe another surge, originating from year-end holiday gatherings, is likely in the coming weeks.

Walz said has said his COVID-19 experts remain worried about a February spike. On Monday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm braced Minnesotans to see daily death and case counts trending higher again.

Active, confirmed case counts are trending up slightly compared to early January.


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