Minnesota health officials have reported 39 COVID-19 group outbreaks of customers in bars and restaurants so far in 2021 amid otherwise improving measures of pandemic activity.

The latest social outbreak data, released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health, also showed 85 outbreaks related to sporting activities, which are defined as at least two cases on the same team or sports program that can’t be traced to other common infection sources.

State health officials remain concerned that outbreaks involving large group events could upset Minnesota’s progress with COVID-19, just as they did last fall. On the encouraging side, the positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing dropped to 3.6% — the lowest rate since June 24.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have declined dramatically as well in Minnesota, where 235 inpatient beds were filled on Sunday with patients suffering from the infectious disease caused by a novel coronavirus.

The latest hospital figure is the lowest since mid-September and compares with a peak of 1,864 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Minnesota on Nov. 29. The 48 COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care in Minnesota hospitals on Sunday was the lowest recorded total since early April.

The state Health Department on Monday also reported one COVID-19 death and 561 newly diagnosed infections. The daily totals — which are typically low on Mondays due to less reporting and diagnostic activities on the weekends — bring the state’s toll to 6,433 deaths and 479,591 known infections.

Gov. Tim Walz and state leaders have taken a variety of steps over the past month in response to the improving COVID-19 metrics — expanding indoor capacities at bars, restaurants and entertainment venues and calling for some form of in-person classes at all schools in the state by March 8.

Reportable outbreaks in bars and restaurants are defined in Minnesota as involving five people with COVID-19 from unique households that only visited the same establishment in the past month. None of the reportable outbreaks have involved more than 10 such cases.

Health officials noted that a major difference when compared with the risks of group outbreaks last summer is the continued distribution of COVID-19 vaccine to protect Minnesotans.

The state on Monday reported that 759,747 people in Minnesota have received at least the first of two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 356,911 of them have completed the series.

The state estimates that more than 41% of senior citizens in Minnesota have received at least one dose. Seniors are prioritized for limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccine along with health care workers, long-term care facility residents and educators.

People 65 and older have suffered 89% of the COVID-19 deaths so far in Minnesota. That includes the lone death reported Monday, which involved a long-term care facility resident from Ramsey County in the 80 to 84 age range.

Weather-related shipping delays of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine caused the rescheduling of some appointments and community vaccination clinics in Minnesota over the weekend. A state spokesman on Monday said no additional events this week have been rescheduled, though it is unclear whether shipping of Moderna doses will resume as scheduled this week.

Walz’s office on Monday also announced that Hy-Vee is joining in the federal pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination partnership in Minnesota along with Walmart and Thrifty White. A release from the governor’s office only said that Hy-Vee will offer vaccination appointments for senior citizens “in the coming days” and will receive roughly 10,000 doses to administer this week.

State leaders urge all Minnesotans, regardless of age, to register with the vaccine connector, which will notify them once they are eligible for vaccination opportunities in Minnesota.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744