Apr. 28—MANKATO — Two more south-central Minnesotans died of COVID-19, raising the region's pandemic death toll to 235.
The deaths occurred in a Blue Earth County resident between 75-79 years old and a Martin County resident between 70-74 years old, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
They were among 22 COVID-19 deaths confirmed across Minnesota on Wednesday. The state's pandemic death toll rose to 7,113.
Blue Earth County has had 41 deaths linked to the illness during the pandemic. Martin County has had 31.
COVID-19 deaths have slowed down in the south-central region during April. Nine area counties have seven total COVID-19 deaths in April, after 16 in March.
Case totals were rising earlier in April but have slowed in recent weeks. The counties did, however, have an uptick in their daily case total Wednesday.
The south-central region combined for 84 new cases, up from 47 Tuesday and 46 Monday. Mondays and Tuesdays often have lower totals due to reporting lags from the weekend.
Blue Earth County's 34 new cases were the most in the region. Le Sueur, Martin and Brown counties all had at least 10.
Waseca County was the only one in the region without at least one new case. The full list of new cases by county includes:
* Blue Earth County — 34
* Le Sueur County — 14
* Martin County — 11
* Brown County — 10
* Nicollet County — 9
* Watonwan County — 3
* Sibley County — 2
* Faribault County — 1
Statewide, Minnesota's newest COVID-19 numbers offer more evidence that the recent upswing in cases may have crested.
Active caseloads are ebbing to the point that Gov. Tim Walz said he plans to announce another easing of COVID-19 restrictions in the coming days, likely an increase in capacity limits in bars, restaurants and other public indoor gathering spaces.
Even as the latest wave ebbs, state officials continue to urge Minnesotans to keep their guard up to protect against spreading the virus, noting that more contagious COVID-19 variants continue to drive new cases in the region.
"The impact of the variants remains a wild card," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Wednesday. "We're certainly hopeful with the recent apparent kind of leveling off in the case rates, although still at a very high level. We're certainly not declaring victory yet."
The count of known, active cases came in at just under 14,000 in Wednesday's numbers — the lowest since March 31 and down from the most recent peak of about 20,000 in mid-April.
Given the state's vaccination efforts, officials said they didn't expect this spring wave would match the 50,000 active cases seen at the top of the late November surge. But they remained worried given the rise in new COVID-19 strains.
The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive continues to dip after a recent upswing. The trend line Wednesday remained just below the 5% threshold that experts find concerning.
Hospitalizations had been climbing the past few weeks, hovering at levels not seen since January. Wednesday's numbers showed 643 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 178 needed intensive care.
Both figures are down from the prior week. Hospitalizations often stay higher for several weeks following an increase in active cases.
Minnesota's vaccination pace remains relatively flat as officials work now to reach out to those who haven't been vaccinated.
Nearly 2.5 million residents 16 and older now have at least one vaccine dose, and more than 1.8 million have completed their vaccinations, as of Wednesday's update.
That works out to about 42% of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and 56% with at least one shot, including more than 86% of those 65 and older.
In south-central Minnesota, about 40.5% of residents — 75,887 people — are fully vaccinated. About 51.9% — 97,181 people — have received at least one dose.
Officials Wednesday acknowledged the state must do more to get vaccines to people.
"We're at a place now where people are not coming to us for the vaccine. We have to bring it to them," ssid Kris Ehresmann, the state's infectious disease director. The next phase of vaccination involves "needing to meet people where they're at, and much closer to home."
About 3.4% of Minnesotans who've received their first dose of a two-dose regimen are late for their second shot, she said.
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