Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Signs surface of a Thanksgiving surge

A metro transit bus is outfitted to be a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Winthrop, Minn., on July 16.
Hannah Yang | MPR News file

3 things to know:

  • 1,556 currently hospitalized, 353 in ICU

  • 33,718 known, active cases, edging higher this week

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

Updated: 4:34 p.m.

A frustrating and complicated week around COVID-19 in Minnesota is closing out with no clear sense of the pandemic’s next steps.

Signs earlier in the week that the disease might have been ebbing have been eclipsed by news that COVID-19’s omicron variant has surfaced in the state. On Friday, Minnesota Health Department data showed strong indications of a Thanksgiving-related surge in cases.

The omicron discovery in Minnesota is a “wake-up call, if we needed another one, that this remains a global challenge that continues to evolve,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday. “Even though we may feel we’re done with the pandemic, it’s certainly not done with us.”

New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

Hospitalizations and intensive care cases have ticked down from recent peaks but remain high. Bed counts that fell below 100 in mid-July jumped in the late fall; 1,556 people are hospitalized now with COVID with 353 needing intensive care.

Graph of new ICU and non-ICU COVID-19 hospitalizations

Hospital executives across the state say COVID-19 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.

At Hennepin Healthcare, officials with the hospital system say a team of nearly two dozen military personnel that arrived late last month has been helping to ease the burden on staff.

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"We're so busy and we're really so close to the edge in Minnesota that having every little bit of the help is definitely saving lives,” says chief of emergency medicine James Miner. “People going out there and getting vaccinated doing their part, that is saving lives at this point."

Military personnel are also helping in St. Cloud, Minn. A team from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services arrived this week to help at M Health Fairview's hospital in Edina in the Twin Cities western suburbs.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

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.

Friday’s numbers, however, show an interesting split in the Twin Cities seven-county metro area right now. Case rates are lowest in the state in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, but among the highest in the state in the surrounding suburban counties.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

Officials had been concerned about a possible bounce from the Thanksgiving holiday, which brought many people together indoors for celebrations, the kind of conditions that lead to more viral spread. That appears to be coming to pass.

Earlier in the week, the count of known, active COVID cases in the state slipped to 27,435, the lowest point in three weeks. By Friday, though, it had climbed again, to 33,718. The seven-day daily average of newly reported cases rose to nearly 3,900, significantly higher than on Monday.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The state's death toll stands at 9,616, including 62 deaths newly reported on Friday — among them a teen in Beltrami County, the third teen in Minnesota to die from COVID-19.

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.

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 Mark Zdechlik contributed to this story.