COVID-19 in MN: Worst of summer-fall surge may be over

Burnout in healthcare
Nurse Jessica Mistic walks past the room of a COVID-19 who is off isolation but still needs care for complications from the virus or other health issues in Bemidji, Minn., on Sept. 17, 2021.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News File

3 things to know:

  • 1,858 newly confirmed or probable cases, lowest in nearly a month; 32 newly reported deaths

  • 18,153 known, active cases; 935 currently hospitalized

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

Updated 2:22 p.m.

While Minnesota continues to slog through a difficult stretch of COVID-19, the most recent data offers fresh evidence that case counts, hospitalizations and community spread may be ebbing and that the summer-fall wave has peaked.

Known, active cases fell to 18,153 in Wednesday’s numbers, the lowest count in three weeks. The seven-day average of newly reported cases also fell to its lowest point since late September.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The rate of COVID tests coming back positive dipped to 6.3 percent, according to MPR News calculations — higher than the 5 percent officials find concerning but down to its lowest point since Oct. 1.

Perhaps the most hopeful news: Hospitalizations continue to pull back from their recent highs.

Bed counts had topped 1,000 recently, putting huge pressure on the state’s short-staffed care systems, but hospitalizations dipped in reports posted Tuesday and Wednesday. There are 935 people in Minnesota hospitals now with COVID; 240 need intensive care.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

State public health leaders continue to emphasize that Minnesota’s COVID numbers are still relatively high and the state is not out of the woods yet. They continue to plead with Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease and get vaccinated if eligible.

It’s “absolutely” possible the state may get hit with a fifth wave of COVID-19, Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told MPR News on Monday.

Driven by the highly contagious delta variant, the entire state now shows a high level of COVID-19 transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Confirmed cases, though, have declined over the past week in every region and every age group.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region
New COVID-19 cases per capita by age

The state's death toll stands at 8,489, including 32 deaths newly reported on Wednesday. Deaths typically follow a surge in cases and hospitalizations. In past COVID waves, it’s been the last of the key metrics to improve.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

Generally, Minnesota remains better positioned now than during its fall and spring spikes. More than 73 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with nearly 70 percent now completely vaccinated.

Breakthrough cases of the disease among fully vaccinated people remain very rare — about 1.4 percent of the more than 3 million Minnesotans who have completed their immunizations.

Graph showing total COVID-19 vaccinations by age

The struggle continues, however, to get more Minnesotans vaccinated, and wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

Unvaccinated Minnesotans are 15 times more likely to be hospitalized, and they are 30 times more likely to die compared to vaccinated people, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Wednesday.

The newly released data sets also show that regardless of age, the chances of being hospitalized or dying from COVID are higher for those who are unvaccinated, officials said.

Officials said Wednesday they're starting to think through now how they'll get COVID vaccines to kids ages 5 to 11. They say vaccines will be available in pharmacies, and, likely, in schools, in addition to traditional health care clinics.

Listen to Wednesday’s Minnesota Department of Health briefing:

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