COVID-19 in MN: Deaths, new cases climb as pandemic stays entrenched

3 things to know:

  • 2,997 newly confirmed or probable cases, 27 newly reported deaths

  • 19,334 known, active cases; 752 currently hospitalized

  • 73.1 percent of 16-and-older residents with at least one vaccine dose

Updated 6:45 p.m.

Minnesota’s current COVID-19 surge won’t relent.

The newest data shows the disease still firmly entrenched in the state. While a jump in testing can explain much of the latest increase in case counts, the numbers also show the current wave stubbornly refusing to crest.

“These are numbers we had hoped we would not see again,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday after the state reported nearly 3,000 more cases. Within the next few days, the state expects to top 700,000 total known cases in the pandemic, she added.

After inching downward through the week, Friday’s daily count of known, active cases jumped to 19,334, a level not seen since mid-April.

Much of the new case growth is happening outside of the Twin Cities.

The rate of tests coming back positive remains relatively stable — the seven-day average is hovering at around 6 percent, higher than the 5 percent officials find concerning but not leaping as it has in other waves.

Cases, however, continue to rise, driven since late summer by the highly contagious delta variant.

Officials have been anxious for weeks that the new school year would bring an increase in the number of cases among kids. Three weeks in, that appears to be happening. More than 770 school buildings currently report at least one case of COVID-19 among students or staff.

“We’re tired of the fear, the frustration, the uncertainty” of the pandemic, Malcolm said as she implored Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease and work to slow its transmission. “Getting vaccinated, far and away, is our single most valuable tool.”

The state's death toll stands at 8,076 including 27 newly reported deaths Friday on top of 24 reported Thursday. That's the first time since January with consecutive days of more than 20 deaths reported.

The seven-day rate of reported deaths is now higher than the peak from the spring.

Current hospital and intensive care needs have risen during this summer-fall wave — 752 people are in hospital beds currently with COVID-19, including 213 ICU cases. Those counts have ticked down in recent days, although they’re still higher than in the April surge.

“We continue to have grave concerns about the impact of this latest wave on our hospitals,” both in the pressure around hospital capacity as well as the impact on health care workers, Malcolm said.

Minnesota remains better positioned now than during its fall and spring spikes. Seventy-two percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, and more than two-thirds of that population are completely vaccinated.

It remains a slow march, though, to get more Minnesotans vaccinated, and wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.

The Health Department on Friday also said Minnesotans can now start seeking their third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who should get a booster shot are people age 65 and older and residents in long-term care settings as well as people ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.

The shots will be given out for eligible Minnesotans once six months has passed since their second dose.

Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, both emphasized the need for more Minnesotans to get vaccinated.

“Delta is likely not the last variant we will see,” Ehresmann told reporters. “We have to make sure that we are preparing ourselves and that we have a strong defense for whatever might come.”

Latest developments

Rochester schools: 90 percent of staff vaccinated

The Rochester Public Schools system is reporting that 90 percent of its staff has taken at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The district broke down the data on vaccination by school, with the numbers showing rates as high as 95 percent among staff in some schools, and as high as 81 percent among students; 65 percent of all eligible students have gotten at least one shot.

“We know that vaccination is the single most effective strategy we can use” against the disease, said Kent Pekel, the district’s interim superintendent.

Pekel said the data the district collected was anonymous and pulled from a statewide database.

Minnesota teachers may be required to be vaccinated under a mandate from the Biden administration, but state officials are still waiting on details for the administration's plan.

Pekel said district leaders will reach out to schools where vaccination rates among students and staff are lower than the overall district rates.

"Especially in terms of the student data,” he said, “we see that when we look at our middle schools, there's some progress than can be made there.”

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

Fargo-Moorhead urges vaccines

Local officials and health professionals in Fargo-Moorhead Friday made a public plea for residents to get vaccinated.

Essentia Health chief medical officer Richard Vetter says the Fargo hospital currently has the largest number of COVID patients since last fall. He says the entire medical system, from clinics to intensive care, is at capacity.

“We've been holding people in our emergency departments longer than we would like to. We're having to delay transfers in from outlying facilities longer than we'd like to, and this is occurring — almost on a daily basis — the last week or two,” Vetter said. “We've been delaying up to five to 10 patients per day from those outlying facilities.”

Vetter says a shortage of health care workers is also contributing to the stress on the system and that more than 90 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated.

— Dan Gunderson | MPR News

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