Latest on COVID-19 in MN: New cases spike as omicron surges

A child shows off her sticker showing she got a vaccine.
Laura Taken-Holtz and her daughter Regina Taken-Holtz, 5, pose for a photo after Regina received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at the Mall of America, during the rollout for vaccinations approved for children aged 5 to 11 on Nov. 3, 2021.
Nicole Neri for MPR News, file

3 things to know:

  • Newly reported case counts climbing rapidly

  • Positive test rate nearly 13 percent, more than twice the level officials find concerning

  • 1,370 hospitalized, 293 in ICU

Updated: Jan. 5, 3:23 p.m. | Posted: Jan. 4, 12:08 p.m.

Minnesota’s post-holidays COVID-19 surge surfaced in a big way Tuesday. The latest numbers show the state is slammed again following a three-week December dip in cases. It’s here, it’s real and it’s clubbing the Twin Cities metro area.

The data signals the growing presence of COVID’s omicron variant in Minnesota. The state reported more than 16,000 new cases over a four-day New Year’s holiday stretch, up from less than 10,000 a week ago over a similar four-day Christmas holiday period.

It's a 64 percent increase in a week, one of the steepest rises reported yet in the pandemic.

State Health Department figures showed seven-day new cases averaging nearly 5,000 a day; known, active cases came in at more than 31,000.

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Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The percentage of COVID tests coming back positive is trending at nearly 13 percent — the highest in more than a year and more than double the 5 percent rate officials find concerning. It had slipped to around 7 percent in late December.

Hospitalizations remain relatively high — 1,370 people were hospitalized as of Thursday with COVID, 293 needed intensive care.

Hospital executives across the state have warned since late fall that COVID-19 patients combined with other care needs were overwhelming short-staffed care centers. In mid-December, leaders of nine Minnesota health care systems called the situation heartbreaking and critical.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

Data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show all Minnesota counties except for Norman and Traverse currently with a high level of virus transmission.

Cases are skyrocketing in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

More COVID testing sites opening amid omicron surge

The rising case counts are also straining the state's COVID testing sites. Demand is up and so are long lines at several testing sites.

On Tuesday the state announced it will open three new testing sites, operated by the National Guard. Two of them will be in Anoka and Cottage Grove to meet demand in the Twin Cities. Information on when and where has not yet been released. The third testing site will open in North Branch on Jan. 10.

The state will also give schools 1.8 million at-home rapid tests to give to families and provide 150,000 at-home tests to communities hit hard by the virus.

It's not clear how long it will take the state to distribute the rapid tests.

On Monday, the testing site at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport moved to appointments only at the request of airport staff because it's too crowded there. Testing centers at the Minneapolis Convention Center and Roy Wilkins Auditorium are extending hours this week, opening at 9 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m.

The state's death toll stands at 10,600 including 36 deaths newly reported on Tuesday. 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

Minnesota is better positioned now than during its fall 2020 and spring 2021 spikes thanks to vaccinations. More than 76 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with more than 72 percent now completely vaccinated.

Graph showing total COVID-19 vaccinations by age

The state is seeing progress in getting boosters 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.

Case surge prompts schools to shift to distance learning

On Tuesday, two Robbinsdale Area schools announced that they will be temporarily returning to distance learning later this week, citing the current number of positive and asymptomatic COVID cases among students and staff.

Students at Armstrong High School and Sandburg Middle School will shift to remote classrooms Thursday through Monday, Jan. 17. The district says it has no plans to move the entire district back to distance learning at this time.

The New Brighton-St. Anthony school district also announced Wednesday that it is temporarily moving its students to distance learning as a result of COVID-19 cases among staff. Students in the suburban district will be learning from home starting Monday through Jan. 28.

“The increase in positive COVID cases in our school district is impacting our ability to adequately staff our schools and provide consistent bus transportation,” the district’s leaders told families and staff in an email Wednesday.

The district is canceling classes on Friday to give teachers time to prepare for the switch to distance learning. The district says it went from seeing eight cases districtwide per week in November, to 32 positive cases in the last four days.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

MPR News reporters Elizabeth Shockman, Peter Cox and Catharine Richert contributed to this story.