By WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As shipments of Moderna’s COIVD-19 vaccine began rolling out Sunday across the country, Minnesota health officials reported 2,705 new cases of the virus and 70 more deaths.

While daily new case counts counts have dropped significantly from the record highs documented last month, Minnesota remains at “high risk” as the virus continues to spread, health officials say. According to the latest update from the Minnesota Department of Health, the state’s cumulative COVID-19 case count stands close to 398,000. Meanwhile, the death toll has reached 4,850.

December has been the deadliest month yet since the outbreak reached Minnesota. So far, the virus has felled 1,257 people this month, and there’s still eleven days left on the calendar.

Of the most recent deaths, 45 of the victims were residents in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Those living in long-term care have been hardest hit by the virus, making up about 65% of the state’s deaths. Yet, the virus also kills younger Minnesotans. Two of the most recent victims were people in their 50s.

Since earlier this month, hospitalizations have dropped markedly. On Dec. 1, there were nearly 400 people with COVID-19 in intensive care beds in Minnesota. As of Thursday, that number has dropped to 270. Even so, health officials have warned that hospital beds — both ICU and regular — remain near capacity in the state.

Last week, health care workers in Minnesota began receiving the first doses of the Pfzier vaccine. On Sunday, the Moderna vaccine, the second COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in the country, began rolling out to states. Unlike the Pfzier vaccine, the Moderna vaccine doesn’t have to be stored at temperatures colder than the North Pole.

Jan Malcolm, the Minnesota Commissioner of Health, said on WCCO Sunday Morning that while the vaccines are a hopeful development in the fight against COVID-19, Minnesotans aren’t out of the woods yet. She is encouraging Minnesotans to continue to social distance and wear masks. She says that most people will have to wait several months to get vaccinated, as vulnerable populations and health care workers are being prioritized.

Malcolm hopes that herd immunity can be reached if 80% of Minnesotans are vaccinated. However, according to surveys, many Americans — and even health care workers — are considering not taking the vaccines, even though early testing has shown both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be effective and safe.

Minnesota continues to track the virus via testing. In the last 24 hours, more than 58,000 tests have been processed. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.8 million people in Minnesota have been tested. Of those who’ve tested positive, nearly 370,000 have recovered and no longer need to self-isolate.