By WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As questions surround the next steps in the slower-than-expected COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Minnesota health officials reported Thursday 1,598 new infections and 43 more deaths.

The daily update from the Minnesota Department of Health shows that state’s total case count stands at 441,935 while the death toll has reached 5,817. Of the most recent deaths, 23 of the victims were residents in long-term care facilities, the demographic that accounts for more than 60% of Minnesota’s virus deaths.

Minnesota is currently working to vaccinate residents in long-term care facilities and frontline health care workers. Both groups, which total about 500,000 people, are in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan. The state hopes to have Phase A1 complete by the end of the month.

Since the vaccine rollout began, the state has received about 558,000 doses, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. However, only about a third of those doses have been used. Some 153,000 people in Phase A1 have received their first dose while slightly more than 15,000 people — about 3 percent of the state’s total population — have gotten their second dose in the series.

RELATED: One-Third Of COVID Vaccines In Minnesota Have Been Administered So Far

In an effort to speed up the rollout, the federal government expanded guidance this week on who should get the vaccine, recommending access to people ages 65 or over and adults with underlying health conditions. The news was welcome to health officials, however it presented a supply issue as it suddenly made 2.2 million Minnesotans eligible for the vaccine.

The state had initially planned to vaccinate frontline essential workers and people 75 and older in Phase 1B. After that, they looked to vaccinate Minnesotans 65 and older and those with high-risk medical conditions. The new federal guidelines could mean that the state’s plan will speed up in the coming days, with more groups being inoculated.

As of Wednesday, 645 people were in Minnesota hospitals battling COVID-19, with 131 patients in intensive care. Over the last several weeks, hospitalizations have gradually fallen from record highs reached in November, when Gov. Tim Walz reacted by tightening the state’s virus restrictions.

Earlier this week, those restrictions loosened for bars and restaurants, youth sports and indoor entertainment venues, like museums and bowling alleys. On Wednesday, the Legislature again voted to extend the governor’s peacetime emergency powers for another 30 days.

In the last 24 hours, more than 36,000 COVID-19 tests were processed in Minnesota. Since the outbreak began last March, more than 3.1 million people in the state have been tested for the virus. Of those who’ve tested positive, 420,919 have recovered and no longer need to self-isolate.