MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Gov. Tim Walz announced on Thursday that 70% of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, a milestone in the fight against the virus.

Compared to one month ago, the number of first doses administered per week is up 129%. In all, over 6 million doses have been administered since December.

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“Minnesotans are continuing to answer the urgent call and do their part to end this pandemic,” said Walz. “The data is clear: vaccines are our key to fighting COVID-19 and the Delta variant, and millions of Minnesotans rolled up their sleeves to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Data from the Center for Disease Control also shows that Minnesota leads the Midwest in the percentage of the population who are fully vaccinated and the percentage of residents 65 and older who have had at least one dose. Data released Thursday shows that 54.5% of Minnesotans have completed the series and 92% of seniors have their first dose. The youngest group eligible for the vaccine has seen the lowest vaccination rate: 46% have had their first shot.

“Every shot in the arm is critical in our fight against COVID-19,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. “I am so grateful for the millions of Minnesotans who have gotten vaccinated to help us fight off the Delta variant and protect our state.”

At the same time, health officials say this 70% vaccination figure is not the finish line, and encourage diligence as the Delta variant spreads and the beginning of the school year nears.

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On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 1,318 more cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths in the state. The figures bring the total tally to 623,527 cases and 7,723 deaths.

The average positivity rate has been climbing recently, reaching 5.1% as of last week. Figures for case numbers and hospitalizations are also on the rise, as the state is seeing 14.5 cases per 100,000 residents and five hospitalizations per 100,000 residents. There were more than 100 Minnesotans in intensive care due to the virus as of Wednesday afternoon.

In the Twin Cities, only 14 staffed ICU beds are currently available, along with 38 unstaffed beds. Across the state, 16 patients are being seen in “surge” beds, and there are nearly 1,000 more at hand.

In order to encourage those still hesitant to get the vaccine, Walz announced another incentive for anyone 12 and older who receives their first dose between July 30 and Aug. 15. Those people qualify for a $100 Visa gift card. Walz said Wednesday that over 30,000 people had already signed up for the program.

He also mandated on Wednesday that all state agency employees must be vaccinated or go through regular testing in order to return to work. Health care systems across the state have also instituted a similar mandate, including Hennepin Healthcare, HealthPartners, Allina, and M Health Fairview.

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