ST. PAUL — More than a third of Minnesota counties now have community transmission of the coronavirus at high enough rates that mask wearing is again recommended for everyone — vaccinated or not — when they are indoors in public spaces.
Every county in the Twin Cities metro area except for Carver is in the substantial transmission category where mask wearing inside is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A number of rural counties also are in the substantial or high transmission categories.
Just a dozen of the state’s 87 counties have low community transmission.
The CDC updated masking guidance earlier this week to address growing concerns over the highly transmissible delta variant. The number of Minnesota counties with transmission rates high enough to get an indoor-masking recommendation has roughly doubled in just a few days.
More than 75 percent of new cases in Minnesota are believed to be caused by the delta variant, and rates are even higher in states with low rates of vaccination.
Health officials say nearly all new infections, hospitalizations and deaths are residents who were not fully vaccinated. There’s growing evidence that while breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated people are rare, they still can spread the highly-contagious delta variant.
The growing numbers of infections have created urgency among public health officials to get more people vaccinated.
Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday, July 29, that the state would pay $100 to anyone who got their first shot by Aug. 15. The incentive is part of a program launched by President Joe Biden’s administration and uses federal dollars from the latest coronavirus response bill.
Minnesota has administered nearly 5.9 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to 3.1 million residents. Nearly 69 percent of those 16 and older have gotten at least one shot — that’s closing in on a goal of 70 percent that Walz hoped to meet July 1.
Five more deaths
Minnesota health officials reported five more COVID-19 deaths Friday and 702 new coronavirus infections.
The latest Minnesotans to die from COVID-19 ranged in age from their early 40s to more than 100. Three lived in long-term care and two in private homes.
The state’s pandemic death toll now is 7,668 with 4,505 fatalities among long-term care residents. Roughly 88 percent of COVID-19 fatalities are seniors.
The 702 new cases reported Friday were the result of about 19,600 tests for a positivity rate of about 3.6 percent. Test positivity has steadily climbed for more than a month. Public health officials say a rate above 5 percent is evidence of dangerous community spread of the virus.
Minnesota has diagnosed 612,701 coronavirus infections since March 2020. Of those who tested positive, 601,097 people, or 98 percent, have recovered enough that they no longer need to be isolated.
There are 231 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 — about twice as many as there were 10 days ago — including 64 in critical condition. That surge is being driven by the delta variant, which health officials say requires hospitalization in about 9 percent of cases.