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The onset of COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 was notable for the number of deaths happening in more densely-populated areas, with New York one of the worst-hit cities in the first few months of the virus' arrival.

But the introduction of vaccines has subsequently marked a shift nationwide, with deaths increasingly coming from more rural areas where there is greater skepticism of the vaccines, and where COVID mitigation measures like mask wearing and social distancing are less likely to be observed.

That shift can be seen in Minnesota since the onset of the highly contagious delta COVID variant, which has caused cases to surge since it became the dominant strain of the virus over the summer.

The 7-county Twin Cities metro (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, Washington) accounts for 55% of the state's population, but in the most recent COVID surge has been seeing proportionally fewer cases compared to the counties in Greater Minnesota. While there are a confluence of factors that determine an area's death rate, one of the crucial ones is vaccination rate.

The 7-county metro has some of the highest vaccination rates in all of Minnesota, with all seven counties now having a vaccination rate of 70% or higher among those aged 12 and over.

Although breakthrough infections still happen even when you're vaccinated, the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, and that now seems to be borne out by recent death figures in Minnesota.

Up until June 3, there had been 7,437 deaths from COVID-19 in Minnesota, of which 54.1% (4,028 deaths) happened in the 7-county metro and the rest happened outside of it – pretty close to a proportional split based on population.

Since June 3, as delta started its spread across Minnesota – eventually becoming the dominant strain in July – Minnesota has reported 1,531 COVID-19 deaths. Of those, 628 have come from the 7-country metro and 903 from Greater Minnesota.

That means that just 41% of COVID deaths reported in the past five-and-a-bit months have happened in the metro, while Greater Minnesota has experienced a number of deaths significantly disproportionate to their population.

If you dig into the figures some more, there are some notable disparities between counties with differing vaccination rates.

Olmsted County, which has a population of more than 158,000 and now has a vaccination rate of 88.5% in those aged 12+, has registered 21 deaths from COVID-19 since June 3.

Otter Tail County, which has a little over 58,000 people and a current vaccination rate of 62.5% in those aged 12+, has registered 34 deaths during the same period.

The most dramatic increase was seen in Faribault County, a county of just under 14,000 residents, which prior to June 3 had registered 10 COVID deaths, but has since registered 21 more.

Other counties with similarly high death rates for their populations include Itasca County (45K pop. 30 deaths since June 3), Rice County (66K pop. 28 deaths since June 3), Beltrami County (47K pop., 27 deaths since June 3), Pine County (29K pop., 16 deaths since June 3), and McLeod County (30K pop. 20 deaths since June 3).

Just outside the 7-county metro but still mostly within the Twin Cities metropolitan area is Wright County, which has registered 48 deaths during that time from a population of 149,000, almost as many as in Washington County (52 from 262,000 population).

Here's a list of Minnesota counties in descending order of deaths from COVID between June 3 and Nov. 12 (total deaths since start of pandemic in parentheses), along with their populations and vaccination rate.

  • Hennepin: 219 since June 3 (1,977 COVID deaths total) – Population 1.26M – 12+ vax rate (1 dose) of 83.5%
  • Ramsey: 121 (1,009) – Pop. 550K – 12+ vax rate 79.8%
  • Dakota: 92 (557) – Pop. 429K – 12+ vax rate 82.9%
  • Anoka: 91 (544) – Pop. 357K – 12+ vax rate 73.4%
  • St. Louis: 67 (377) – Pop. 200K – 12+ vax rate 72.3%
  • Washington: 52 (342) – Pop. 262K – 12+ vax rate 83.7%
  • Wright: 48 (191) – Pop. 134K – 12+ vax rate 65.2%
  • Scott: 38 (168) – Pop. 149K – 12+ vax rate 79.5%
  • Stearns: 38 (262) – Pop. 161K – 12+ vax rate 59.4%
  • Otter Tail: 34 (115) – Pop. 58K – 12+ vax rate 62.5%
  • Itasca: 30 (90) – Pop. 45K – 12+ vax rate 63.4%
  • Rice: 28 (136) – Pop. 66K – 12+ vax rate 69.6%
  • Beltrami: 27 (86) – Pop. 47K – 12+ vax rate 65.8%
  • Crow Wing: 27 (119) – Pop. 65K. – 12+ vax rate 62.9%
  • Sherburne: 26 (118) – Pop. 97K – 12+ vax rate 59.1%
  • Blue Earth: 22 (64) – Pop. 68K – 12+ vax rate 68.1%
  • Faribault: 21 (31) – Pop. 14K – 12+ vax rate 60.9%
  • Olmsted: 21 (123) – Pop. 158K – 12+ vax rate 88.5%
  • McLeod: 20 (81) – Pop. 30K – 12+ vax rate 64.7%
  • Benton: 19 (117) – Pop. 41K – 12+ vax rate 57.3%
  • Kandiyohi: 19 (103) – Pop. 43K – 12+ vax rate 62.1%
  • Goodhue: 18 (91) – Pop. 46K – 12+ vax rate 71.8%
  • Douglas: 18 (98) – Pop. 38K – 12+ vax rate 64.3%
  • Cass: 17 (49) – Pop. 30K – 12+ vax rate 62.9%
  • Pine: 16 (39) – Pop. 29K – 12+ vax rate 51.6%
  • Brown: 15 (55) – Pop. 25K – 12+ vax rate 70.5%
  • Carver: 15 (61) – Pop. 105K – 12+ vax rate 82.1%
  • Chisago: 15 (67) – Pop. 57K – 12+ vax rate 74.4%
  • Isanti: 15 (79) – Pop. 40K – 12+ vax rate 54.5%
  • Becker: 14 (69) – Pop. 34K – 12+ vax rate 63.4%
  • Mille Lacs: 14 (68) – Pop. 26K – 12+ vax rate 53.4%
  • Morrison: 14 (74) – Pop. 33K – 12+ vax rate 53.1%
  • Aitkin: 13 (46) – Pop. 16K – 12+ vax rate 63.7%
  • Carlton: 13 (69) – Pop. 36K – 12+ vax rate 74.7%
  • Meeker: 13 (55) – Pop. 23K – 12+ vax rate 55.2%
  • Mower: 13 (46) – Pop. 40K – 12+ vax rate 70.9%
  • Nicollet: 13 (57) – Pop. 34K – 12+ vax rate 73%
  • Steele: 13 (28) – Pop. 37K – 12+ vax rate 68.6%
  • Freeborn: 11 (42) – Pop. 30K – 12+ vax rate 66.5%
  • Polk: 11 (82) – Pop. 31K – 12+ vax rate 60.4%
  • Roseau: 11 (31) – Pop. 15K – 12+ vax rate 57.9%
  • Wadena: 11 (33) – Pop. 14K – 12+ vax rate 51.6%
  • Martin: 10 (42) – Pop. 20K – 12+ vax rate 61.4%
  • Pennington: 10 (29) – Pop. 14K – 12+ vax rate 64%
  • Clay: 8 (100) – Pop. 64K – 12+ vax rate 65.1%
  • Dodge: 8 (11) – Pop. 21K – 12+ vax rate 69.8%
  • Le Sueur: 8 (33) – Pop. 29K – 12+ vax rate 66.2%
  • Rock: 8 (27) – Pop. 9.4K – 12+ vax rate 58.3%
  • Waseca: 8 (31) – Pop. 19K – 12+ vax rate 63.5%
  • Lyon: 7 (59) – Pop. 25K – 12+ vax rate 63.1%
  • Redwood: 7 45) – Pop. 15K – 12+ vax rate 61.3%
  • Todd: 7 (39) – Pop. 24K – 12+ vax rate 50.1%
  • Watonwan: 7 (16) – Pop. 11K – 12+ vax rate 66.7%
  • Cottonwood: 6 (29) – Pop. 11K – 12+ vax rate 64.6%
  • Nobles: 6 (54) – Pop. 22K – 12+ vax rate 68.8%
  • Renville: 6 (51) – Pop. 15K – 12+ vax rate 60.9%
  • Hubbard: 5 (46) – Pop. 21K – 12+ vax rate 60.8%
  • Kanabec: 5 (32) – Pop. 16K — 12+ vax rate 51.8%
  • Koochiching: 5 (21) – 12.5K – 12+ vax rate 61.6%
  • Wabasha: 5 (8) – Pop. 22K – 12+ vax rate 70.2%
  • Clearwater: 4 (20) – Pop. 8.8K – 12+ vax rate 46.6%
  • Fillmore: 4 (14) – Pop. 23K – 12+ vax rate 70%
  • Jackson: 4 (16) – Pop. 10K – 12+ vax rate 59.3%
  • Lake: 4 (24) – Pop. 10.6K – 12+ vax rate 75.8%
  • Mahnomen: 4 (13) – Pop. 5.5K – 12+ vax rate 66.3%
  • Marshall: 4 (21) – Pop. 9.3K – 12+ vax rate 57.4%
  • Pope: 4 (10) – Pop. 11K – 12+ vax rate 62.1%
  • Sibley: 4 (14) – Pop. 15K – 12+ vax rate 59%
  • Winona: 4 (55) – Pop. 50K – 12+ vax rate 66.4%
  • Lac qui Parle: 3 (25) – Pop. 6.7K – 12+ vax rate 65.9%
  • Pipestone: 3 (29) – Pop. 9.1K – 12+ vax rate 59.6%
  • Red Lake: 3 (10) – Pop. 4K – 12+ vax rate 64%
  • Wilkin: 3 (15) – Pop. 6.2K – 12+ vax rate 58.9%
  • Chippewa: 2 (40) – Pop. 12K – 12+ vax rate 63.7%
  • Lincoln: 2 (5) – Pop. 5.6K – 12+ vax rate 61.2%
  • Murray: 2 (11) – Pop. 8.3K – 12+ vax rate 63.5%
  • Swift: 2 (20) – Pop. 9.4K – 12+ vax rate 62.4%
  • Big Stone: 1 (5) – Pop. 5K – 12+ vax rate 67.7%
  • Grant: 1 (9) – Pop. 6K – 12+ vax rate 59.9%
  • Lake of the Woods: 1 (4) – Pop. 3.7K – 12+ vax rate 62.9%
  • Houston: 1 (17) — Pop. 18.6K – 12+ vax rate 72.7%
  • Traverse: 1 (6) – Pop. 3.3K – 12+ vax rate 67.7%
  • Yellow Medicine: 1 (21) – Pop. 9.8K – 12+ vax rate 59.9%
  • Cook: 0 (0) – Pop. 5.3K – 12+ vax rate 87.9%
  • Kittson: 0 (22) – Pop. 4.3K – 12+ vax rate 63.6%
  • Norman: 0 (9) – Pop. 6.5K – 12+ vax rate 66.3%
  • Stevens: 0 (11) – Pop. 9.8K – 12+ vax rate 61.5%

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