(2) New CDC reports warn that variants could lead to “rapid rise” in Covid-19 cases – CNN

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he is hoping to get students back into classrooms “in a safe manner” by March 8.

“My goal is to try the best we can to get five days a week in all of our schools for all of our students in a safe manner by March 8,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.

“We have made extraordinary progress against Covid-19, we are at case positivity rates that mirror last summer,” Walz said, adding that they aren’t out of the woods yet, “but our relentless progress with vaccines and Minnesotans’ vigilance has put us closer than ever to the end of this pandemic.”

Walz referred to the state’s updated Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-2021 school year, which provides new guidelines for all middle and high schools to come back to the classroom beginning Feb. 22 for hybrid or in-person learning. 

Starting next week, educators will have access to more than 18,000 vaccine doses at state vaccine sites and through other providers, an attempt at vaccinating all educators across Minnesota, he said. The governor added that nearly 25% of teachers and 40% of seniors have been vaccinated.

According to a statement released by the governor last week, 85% K-8 students are receiving some form of in-person learning, and 15% are in distance learning. Additionally, Minnesota began delivering Covid-19 testing supplies from state warehouses to each school district every two weeks at no cost to staff or schools, Walz said.

What the numbers show: In a Covid-19 update, the governor said the percentage of Covid-19 tests coming back positive is now below five percent—for the first time ever.

“Hospital bed usage is now back down to almost pre-Covid level,” Walz added.

On Wednesday, Minnesota reported 783 new coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to 475,379. The state also reported 10 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic to 6,390, according to Minnesota’s Department of Public Health.

Note: These numbers were released by the state’s public health agency and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University, The Covid Tracking Project and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.