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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — A Nicollet County resident died of COVID-19, the county’s 41st death linked to the illness during the pandemic.

The resident was in their early 90s, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The fatality was among 14 linked to COVID statewide Thursday, raising Minnesota’s pandemic death toll to 6,404.

Nicollet County’s 41 COVID deaths are the most among south-central Minnesota’s nine counties. The counties have combined for 209 confirmed COVID deaths.

Of the 209 deaths, 12 have been confirmed in February. The month is so far on pace to have a lower COVID death toll than November, December and January, the three most severe months during the pandemic.

Although Nicollet County has the most COVID deaths in the south-central region, two other counties have higher death rates. Brown and Martin counties, in that order, have the most deaths per 10,000 residents.

Area counties also combined for 43 newly confirmed cases Thursday. It was a drop from Wednesday’s total but higher than Monday’s and Tuesday’s.

Blue Earth County’s 14 new cases were the most in the region. Only Watonwan County didn’t have at least one new case in the health department’s latest update.

The full list of new cases by county includes:

• Blue Earth County — 14

• Martin County — 7

• Le Sueur County — 5

• Waseca County — 5

• Faribault County — 5

• Nicollet County — 3

• Brown County — 3

• Sibley County — 1

Statewide, Minnesota’s COVID numbers show the state on a steady, positive path with key pandemic metrics continuing to improve.

Known active cases have stayed below 7,000 for three straight days this week, the first time that’s happened since late September.

The seven-day hospital admissions trend for people with COVID also has receded to September levels. There were 287 people with COVID in Minnesota hospitals as of Wednesday — the first time since September hospitalizations were below 300.

Fifty-four people currently need an intensive care bed, the lowest point since the spring.

If there’s frustration, it’s with the speed of vaccinations. Even as the state approaches 1 million vaccinations, the pace seems unable to take off after falling and then flattening following a late January surge.

While it’s ticked up since then, the overall trend line isn’t yet showing a sustained upswing. The current seven-day average is running at about 28,300 vaccinations per day. While it’s trending in the right direction now, it’s not back to the levels seen in late January and early February.

Officials have been emphasizing during the past weeks that the relatively low flow of vaccine supplies from the federal government is the main problem holding back the pace of vaccinations. Data continue to back that up.

The cold snap now gripping the nation will delay vaccine shipments to Minnesota, potentially depressing vaccination counts in the short term. The state already has postponed appointments at two community vaccination sites set for late this week.

The state is ranked 23rd among states currently in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 12.8% of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Tuesday, with about 4.7% completely vaccinated. About 38% of Minnesotans 65 and older have received at least one shot. At the current rate, it would take until September or October to vaccinate 80% of the state’s adults.

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