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Minnesota vaccine site crashes as seniors register for doses

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota COVID-19 vaccine registration website crashed on Tuesday as newly eligible seniors tried to make appointments to get some of the few doses just made available to the group.

The state began taking appointments at noon for a limited supply of 12,000 doses now available to seniors, teachers and child care workers at nine sites statewide. The call center received more than 83,000 calls, and the website experienced 2,000 hits per second, at one point peaking at 10,000 hits per second as Minnesotans aged 65 and older tried to schedule an appointment.

State officials said 6,100 appointments had been booked as of 2 p.m. People reported long waits and error messages on the registration website.

State health officials said half of the 12,000 doses are reserved for seniors while half will go to teachers and child care workers. Minnesota is getting 60,000 doses from the federal government per week. State officials hope that number will go up soon after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Wednesday.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said during a news conference Tuesday that issues with the registration system are less about how the system was set up and more about high demand for a small number of doses.

“Even if we’d had two weeks to plan for it, the bottom line is that when we say people 65 and older, we’re talking about 918,000 Minnesotans who want to be vaccinated for a very limited number of spots,” Ehresmann said. “I think this is the result of an incredibly pent up demand for vaccine and a very limited supply.”

Health officials reported on Tuesday that six more Minnesotans have died from complications due to COVID-19, and the state has 922 new infections, putting Minnesota at 5,945 total deaths and 448,268 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations continued to decline, with less than 600 patients hospitalized due to the coronavirus, including 110 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, many Minnesota schools welcomed back some of their youngest students for in-person instruction on Tuesday, after Gov. Tim Walz told school districts last month that they could reopen their elementary schools starting this week regardless of case growth in their communities.

Some school districts, including the state’s largest in Anoka-Hennepin, opened for kindergarten, first- and second-grade students and plan to bring back older elementary students next month. Others, including the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts, will begin their reopening process later this month or next month.

Schools are required to take extra precautions. Teachers must wear masks and face shields, and plexiglass barriers have been erected in classrooms. Schools will test teachers and staff for the coronavirus every two weeks.

Walz released his Safe Learning Plan in July, which allowed school districts to work with local health officials to decide between in-person, distance or hybrid learning models based on virus case numbers in their area. In November, many schools shifted back to remote learning as Minnesota experienced explosive case growth statewide.

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