May 14—MANKATO — Two more south-central Minnesota residents died of COVID-19, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
The latest fatalities linked to the illness occurred in a Le Sueur County resident between 75-79 years old and a Martin County resident between 85-89 years old.
South-central Minnesota's pandemic death toll is up to 239.
The deaths were among nine reported statewide Friday. Minnesota's pandemic death toll rose to 7,283.
Area counties also combined for 41 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday. It was an uptick from Thursday's total and about average for May so far.
Blue Earth County's eight new cases were the most in the region. Le Sueur County's seven were the next most.
All nine south-central counties had at least one new case. The full list of new cases by county includes:
* Blue Earth County — 8
* Le Sueur County — 7
* Watonwan County — 6
* Nicollet County — 5
* Brown County — 5
* Sibley County — 4
* Waseca County — 3
* Faribault County — 2
* Martin County — 1
For weekly totals, south-central Minnesota had a big drop in newly confirmed cases this week.
Area counties combined for 235 cases between May 8-14, down 37% from the 375 during the prior week. It was the second straight week with a drop in cases in the region.
Only one county, Nicollet, had a rise in new cases.
Statewide, Minnesota's COVID-19 picture continues to improve following a spring surge, with active caseloads and hospitalizations trending at or near their lowest points in the past six weeks.
As the April wave ebbs, however, state public health leaders continue to stress that the pandemic is not over. Underpinning their concern: The vaccination pace has collapsed in recent weeks and remains at a relative crawl.
It's not clear how Minnesota's decision to drop the statewide mask-wearing order as of Friday will affect the vaccination effort going forward. Officials, though, acknowledge they need to do more to get unvaccinated Minnesotans to get their shots.
"The virus is still out there in our community," state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann told reporters Friday. "It's still very much a threat to those who are not vaccinated."
Ehresmann noted some settings — particularly health care facilities and public transit — will still require masks, even with the state mandate ended.
Despite the slow vaccination pace, the disease metrics continue to show Minnesota's spring case surge easing. The new-case trend is running at a little more than 1,000 a day, the lowest it's been in nearly two months.
The count of known, active COVID-19 cases came in at 10,334 — slightly higher than the past couple of days but still about half its most recent high of around 20,000 in mid-April.
Friday's report showed 464 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota; 123 needed intensive care. Both figures continue to trend down from their recent peaks. New hospital admissions have dropped significantly.
While the overall trends are solid, officials are increasingly concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in younger people.
About 2.7 million residents 16 and older now have at least one vaccine dose; more than 2.2 million have completed their vaccinations as of Friday's update.
That works out to 51.2% of the 16-and-older population completely vaccinated and more than 61% with at least one shot, including 88% of those 65 and older.
In south-central Minnesota, about 48% of the 16-and-older residents are completely vaccinated and about 55% have at least one shot.
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola