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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — A COVID-19 death confirmed Thursday in Nicollet County was the south-central region’s 241st fatality linked to the illness during the pandemic.

The Nicollet County resident was between 75-79 years old, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The death was among eight more fatalities linked to the illness statewide, raising Minnesota’s pandemic death toll to 7,333.

Although COVID-19 deaths have slowed down this spring, Thursday was the second straight day the nine-county region had a newly confirmed fatality.

A Le Sueur County resident’s death was confirmed as being caused by COVID-19 on Wednesday. The county has had 24 total COVID-19 deaths.

Thursday’s death raised Nicollet County’s pandemic death toll to 44, the most among the nine area counties. Per 10,000 residents, the county has the third-most COVID-19 deaths behind Brown and Martin counties.

Nicollet County also has the second-highest vaccination rate among residents 16 and older in south-central Minnesota. About 61% of county residents 16 and older have at least one dose of the vaccine; about 88% of county residents 65 and older have at least one shot.

For newly confirmed cases Thursday, the regional count remained in the 20s. Case counts have been trending down in recent weeks.

Seven area counties combined for 22 new cases. Blue Earth, Le Sueur, Watonwan and Martin counties each had four cases.

Waseca and Faribault counties had no new cases. The full list of new cases by county includes:

• Blue Earth County — 4

• Le Sueur County — 4

• Watonwan County — 4

• Martin County — 4

• Sibley County — 3

• Nicollet County — 2

• Brown County — 1

Statewide, COVID-19 continues to ebb in Minnesota following a mid-April surge. Still, the vaccination pace continues to struggle for traction, raising concerns that hundreds of thousands of Minnesota adults might choose to go unvaccinated.

That concern is overshadowing an overall positive pandemic picture. Thursday’s health department numbers show new case counts trending at just over 800 a day — the lowest since early March. Active case counts and hospitalizations are also trending down.

The count of known, active COVID-19 cases came in at 7,239. Active cases have fallen by nearly half over the past few weeks and are down nearly two-thirds from their most recent high of around 20,000 in mid-April.

There were 412 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 109 needed intensive care. Both figures continue to trend down from their April peaks. New hospital admissions have dropped significantly and are trending at six-week lows.

Among the 7,333 Minnesotans who’ve died of COVID-19, about 60% had been living in long-term care or assisted-living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The state has recorded 597,052 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including the 874 posted Thursday — the sixth consecutive day of fewer than 1,000 new cases. About 98% of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to isolate.

Regionally, all parts of Minnesota are in better shape than they were in late November and early December. Case counts had crept up across the state during April, but the trend is clearly on the slide.

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.

People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 110,000 since the pandemic began. The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 48,000 15- to 19-year-olds known to be infected during the pandemic.

On vaccines, more than 2.7 million residents 16 and older now have at least one dose; more than 2.4 million have completed their vaccinations as of Thursday’s update.

That works out to about 54.7% of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and 62.4% with at least one shot, including 89% of those 65 and older.

The vaccination pace, however, has plummeted in recent weeks. Minnesota was averaging 60,000 shots a day at one point in mid-April before it began dropping. It’s been running at less than 40,000 daily the past two weeks.

Thursday’s data showed what appeared to be a surge in vaccinations, with nearly 70,000 added. State officials, though, said the vaccine report held a one-time backlog of about 24,000 doses administered to 16-and-older Minnesotans by North Dakota providers since January.

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