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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — Seven area counties combined for 40 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the region’s smallest uptick since April 19.

South-central Minnesota has had a fairly quiet start to May for new cases. The 40 new cases Tuesday came after 50 on Monday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

No new COVID-19 deaths were reported in the region Tuesday, although there were 11 more confirmed statewide. Minnesota’s pandemic death toll rose to 7,174.

Blue Earth County, the most populous in the area, continues to account for the biggest proportion of new cases in the south-central region. It had 18 of the 40 new cases Tuesday.

Watonwan County had the next most with six. Brown and Waseca counties didn’t report any new cases.

The full list of new cases by county includes:

•Blue Earth County — 18

•Watonwan County — 6

•Le Sueur County — 5

•Nicollet County — 3

•Martin County — 3

•Faribault County — 3

•Sibley County — 2

Statewide, Minnesota’s COVID-19 trends continue to show the state on the downslope of a recent wave, but public health leaders are still pleading with residents to get vaccinated and stay vigilant against spreading the disease.

While active case counts are at their lowest since late March, so are vaccination trends. That’s slowing the state’s efforts to reach herd immunity.

Overall, the disease metrics look solid enough that Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday is expected to announce he’s loosening some pandemic curbs, likely raising capacity limits for bars, restaurants and other indoor public gathering spaces.

“Minnesotans have done what was asked,” he told reporters during a Tuesday visit to a Hopkins elementary school. “We out-vaccinated that surge where hospitals were getting overwhelmed in states like Michigan and now in Oregon. It didn’t happen in Minnesota because we’re still doing the mitigation efforts and we’re still vaccinating.”

Officials, though, remain anxious about the flattening pace of vaccinations and what seems to be a wavering public will around mask-wearing and other COVID-19 precautions.

More than 2.5 million residents 16 and older now have at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 2 million have completed their vaccinations, as of Tuesday’s update.

That works out to more than 45% of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and nearly 59% with at least one shot, including 87% of those 65 and older.

In south-central Minnesota, about 43.5% of residents — 81,549 people — are completely vaccinated. About 53.2% of residents — 99,566 — have received at least one dose.

Minnesota’s vaccination pace, however, has been slipping in recent weeks.

The state’s vaccination efforts are hampered by supply cuts, particularly of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Officials, however, also acknowledge the state must do more to connect unvaccinated people to shots.

The work to reach out to people who haven’t yet been vaccinated “will be a bit harder” than when Minnesotans were lining up for the shots, state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said Tuesday.

“We recognize successes are going to be hard to come by in this phase,” she said. “Any time we move up by a percentage point (in people vaccinated), that’s a big deal.”

The count of known, active COVID-19 cases fell to 13,428 in the Tuesday numbers — down from the most recent peak of about 20,000 in mid-April and the lowest it’s been since late March.

Tuesday’s report showed 575 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 149 needed intensive care. Both figures continue to trend down from their recent peaks.

Officials continue to implore Minnesotans to keep their guard up during proms, graduations and other spring events, noting that more contagious COVID-19 variants are driving new cases across the state.

“There is still an extremely high level of virus circulating all over the state,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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