Latest on COVID in MN: Case surge appears to ebb; hospital needs still high

A nurse layers PPE in a hospital
North Memorial Health Hospital critical care nurse Kayla Lynch wears a protective gown before entering the room of a COVID-19 patient during her shift on Dec. 7, 2020, in Robbinsdale, Minn.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP 2020

3 things to know:

  • 1,562 currently hospitalized, 356 in ICU: 2021 highs

  • 27,435 known, active cases, lowest in 3 weeks

  • 75.2 percent of residents 12 and older with at least 1 vaccine shot

Updated 4:03 p.m.

The bolt of new and active COVID-19 cases that’s struck Minnesota in recent weeks seems to be showing signs of retreat. Hospitalizations, however, remain high and intensive care needs are edging up toward their pandemic highs.

The rate of COVID tests coming back positive is trending now just below 9 percent, according to MPR News calculations. That’s better than the prior two Wednesdays but still nearly twice the rate officials find concerning.

While the key metrics seem to be trending the right way again, officials remain concerned about a possible bounce from the Thanksgiving holiday that brought many people together indoors for celebrations, the kind of conditions that lead to more spread of COVID’s delta variant.

Minnesota remains “firmly in the grip of the delta wave,” Jan Malcolm, the state’s health commissioner, said Wednesday. All Minnesotans should be masking up in public indoor settings, regardless of where they are in the state, she added.

Malcolm noted that the so-called omicron variant has surfaced in California but so far hasn’t been confirmed in Minnesota. She implored people to get vaccinated if eligible and otherwise stay vigilant against COVID.

“We don’t want to give this virus any more opportunities to infect us and evade our protection,” she said.

Hospitalizations, ICU cases climb

Hospitalizations continue to be concerning. Bed counts that fell below 100 in mid-July jumped in the late fall; 1,562 people are hospitalized now with COVID with 356 needing intensive care, the highest count in nearly a year.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

Hospital executives across the state say COVID patients combined with other care needs have been overwhelming short-staffed care centers. Hospitals in this wave are seeing more people needing treatment for other illnesses along with people who delayed getting care over the past year and a half.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by age
New COVID-19 cases per capita by age.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show all Minnesota counties, except for Lake of the Woods County, currently with a high level of virus transmission. The current surge, driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant, has been particularly hard on greater Minnesota.

On a positive note, Wednesday’s numbers showed the count of known, active cases slipped to 27,435, the lowest point in three weeks.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The state's death toll stands at 9,482, including 100 deaths newly reported on Wednesday, a total from several days over the Thanksgiving holiday. Deaths typically follow a surge in cases and hospitalizations. In past COVID-19 waves, it’s been the last of the key metrics to improve.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

Cook County in far northeastern Minnesota reported its first death from COVID; it was the last of Minnesota's 87 counties to report a death from the virus. Officials didn’t release details.

The county’s relative remoteness and high vaccination rate — nearly 83 percent of people have received at least one vaccine dose, including nearly everyone 65 and older — have helped it fare better than other parts of Minnesota.

The state seems better positioned now than during its fall 2020 and spring 2021 spikes. More than 75 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with more than 71 percent now completely vaccinated.

Graph showing total COVID-19 vaccinations by age

The state is seeing progress in getting booster shots into Minnesotans who’ve already been vaccinated.

However, the struggle continues to get first shots into more Minnesotans. Wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

MPR News reporter Dan Kraker contributed to this report.

Listen to Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing from state public health officials: