Apr. 1—MANKATO — South-central Minnesota counties combined for 87 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, the fourth straight day with at least 70 in the region.
The last time area counties had 70 or more cases for four consecutive days was in early January, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Although case totals remained elevated Thursday, the nine-county region had no newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
There were 12 fatalities statewide, however, raising Minnesota's pandemic death toll to 6,860. South-central Minnesota's toll remained at 228.
Of the 87 new cases in the area, 20 each were in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties. Le Sueur and Brown counties each had more than 10 as well.
All nine counties had at least two new cases. The full list of newly confirmed cases by county includes:
* Blue Earth County — 20
* Nicollet County — 20
* Le Sueur County — 15
* Brown County — 14
* Martin County — 5
* Sibley County — 4
* Faribault County — 4
* Waseca County — 3
* Watonwan County — 2
Statewide, hope and worry are running neck-and-neck in Minnesota's newest COVID-19 numbers.
The state's vaccination pace remains firmly on the upswing. The health department on Thursday reported about 46,000 new vaccinations, pushing the seven-day trend to more than 52,000 shots daily — the highest since vaccinations began in late December.
More than 1 million Minnesotans are fully inoculated while nearly 1.7 million have received at least one dose, including nearly 82% of residents age 65 and older.
In south-central Minnesota, 45,560 residents — 19.6% of the population — are completely vaccinated. A total of 71,933 residents — 31% — have at least one dose.
As the trend lines move the right way on vaccinations, though, they're headed the wrong way around the disease.
The good news is many of the state's highest-risk residents, including seniors, have received at least one dose and Minnesota expects to see its federal vaccine supply shipments jump starting in April. The state Thursday even said they're making it a little easier for assisted living residents to get out for Easter, play cards and eat dinner together.
Officials have described the current situation, however, as a race against time to vaccinate as many Minnesotans as possible before the COVID-19 variants can get a stronger foothold.
The number of known, active cases has been trending upward over the past few weeks, with 14,456 active cases as of Thursday's report — marking 14 consecutive days with active counts above 10,000, a stretch not seen since January.
While still low compared to late November and early December, the rising trend is notable given the worries over the rise of the U.K. COVID-19 strain, which state health officials suspect is driving the current upswing.
Hospitalization counts are also moving higher. The latest health department data showed 435 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals; 105 needed intensive care — the highest ICU needs and hospitalizations since late January.
Hospitalization rates for people with COVID-19 are also rising across the state. Dr. Dawn Droder, the chair of hospital services at Essentia Health in Duluth, said their number of people hospitalized has doubled in the past week or so.
"We are not anywhere near where we peaked in November, but we're cautiously watching these numbers because they're increasing for sure," Droder said.
She said that the majority of their COVID-19 patients are between the ages of 37 and 65, and that it's likely many younger people with COVID-19 are spreading it to older adults.
Regionally, all parts of Minnesota are in better shape than they were in late November and early December. But the latest numbers show cases are up sharply in every age group except the oldest, and in almost every region of the state.
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola