Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers continue to show the pandemic picture brightening — to the point now where Minnesota is prepared to reopen middle and high school buildings to students starting next week.

Students in those schools would be allowed to return to classrooms for hybrid or in-person learning with the expectation that all schools will offer some form of in-person learning by March 8, as announced Wednesday during Gov. Tim Walz’s press conference.

The Walz administration said schools should focus more on building-level COVID-19 data (not county-level data) when determining what scenario to implement for students. School leaders should still consult with local public health officials when making decisions about school scenarios, they said.

How the guidance would be applied to school districts in Dakota County is yet to be determined.

School districts in Farmington, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan have each developed timelines to bring secondary students back into classrooms for hybrid learning models as allowed by the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan.

The Lakeville Area School District on Friday reversed course on its hybrid plan, saying it would stay in distance learning and petition the state for a full return to in-person learning for all middle and high school students by April 6.

Overall, Wednesday’s data makes it clear Minnesota remains on the right path. Key trend lines around the disease remain angled in the right direction.

The Health Department on Wednesday reported 783 newly confirmed or probable cases. Known, active cases stayed below 7,000 for the second straight day, the first time that’s happened since late September.

The seven-day hospital admissions trend for people with COVID-19 has also receded to late September levels. There were 314 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals as of Tuesday, with 54 needing intensive care. ICU cases are at their lowest point since the spring.

The overall vaccination pace is still trying to take off after falling and then flattening following a late January surge. While it’s ticked up since then, the overall trend line isn’t yet showing a sustained upswing. The state on Wednesday reported nearly 16,000 new vaccinations.

About 12.5 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Monday, with about 4.4 percent completely vaccinated. About 37 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older have received at least one shot.

Officials have been emphasizing over the past weeks that the relatively low flow of vaccine supplies from the federal government is the main problem holding back the pace of vaccinations. There’s data to back that up. On Tuesday, they cautioned that the cold snap now gripping the nation could delay vaccine shipments to Minnesota.

The state is ranked 23rd among states in doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the current rate, it would take until October to vaccinate 80 percent of the state’s adults.

Ten reported deaths on Wednesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 6,390. Among those who’ve died, about 63 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The state’s recorded 475,379 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic. About 97 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

“We have clearly made important progress against COVID-19,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters on Tuesday, highlighting the effort to vaccinate teachers. It’s put the state “in a good position to get our kids back to school.”

State health officials continue to monitor new virus strains circulating in the United States, which may be more contagious. Officials have warned that they could lead to an increase in cases.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, reaffirmed those concerns on Tuesday, noting that Minnesota’s now confirmed 40 cases of the U.K. strain here. “We want to make sure we’re not giving a foothold to these variants.”

Sun Thisweek and the Dakota County Tribune added to this report.

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