Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Active cases leap; hospitals 'literally full'

Nurse loads a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson vaccination
Nurse Alicia Amundson loads a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson vaccination for COVID-19 on April 12, 2021 at the Islamic Center of St. Cloud.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

3 things to know:

  • Newly reported and active case counts climbing

  • Positive test rate about 10 percent; officials find 5 percent concerning

  • 1,467 hospitalized, 269 in ICU

Updated 4:06 p.m.

The post-holidays COVID-19 surge continues to whack Minnesota.

The newest state Health Department figures show new cases averaging more than 5,000 a day the past seven reporting days; known, active cases came in at more than 44,000 — the highest since just after Thanksgiving 2020 and 11,000 more than a week ago.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

The percentage of COVID tests coming back positive is trending at about 10 percent, according to MPR News calculations — about twice the 5 percent officials find concerning.

“The omicron surge has most definitely reached Minnesota,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday. She said it’s spreading “like wildfire” here and across the country and “we just need to expect that it’s going to be the norm for us in coming weeks.”

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While omicron appears to cause less severe illness, Malcolm said it remained a danger to the unvaccinated and medically vulnerable people and that hospitals and care centers would remain under strain in the coming weeks. She estimated omicron was responsible for about 90 percent of Minnesota’s new case counts.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by age

"Just in recent days, many of us ourselves, have either gotten sick ourselves or been exposed or know of people close to us who've gotten sick in the last week or two,” Malcolm said. “We just need to expect that's going to be the norm for more and more of us over the coming weeks."

That included Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, who offered her family as an example of how quickly and easily the virus can spread.

She said her 89-year-old father stopped by last Friday and they spoke for about 15 minutes. The next day, she said, her dad said he wasn’t feeling well and shortly after tested positive. Then Ehresmann did, too, along with other members of their family.

Ehresmann said her dad and her family members are vaccinated and boosted and so have been able to manage the illness at home. She said she asked her dad why he came over if he wasn't feeling 100 percent. He told her he felt like he was just getting a cold.

“You can’t guess what you have,” Ehresmann told reporters. “If you have any symptoms of feeling off, you really need to isolate.”

‘Hospitals are literally full’

Hospitalizations remain high — 1,467 people are hospitalized with COVID, 269 needing intensive care.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

Hospital CEOs 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.

On Friday, the Minnesota Hospital Association begged people not to come to emergency rooms seeking COVID tests or other nonemergency care, noting a “high volume” of patients driving up wait times for medical emergencies at several hospitals.

“We have run out of words to describe what we are undergoing — a crisis does not even come close,” the group said, adding, “hospitals are literally full … ICUs are full, emergency departments are full, medical-surgical units are full, hallways are full, and surgeries are being canceled.”

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

The Twin Cities and its suburbs are driving the latest wave.

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz said he expected the current spike in cases will likely peak in the next few weeks.

He noted the state is working to expand testing, including an immediate doubling of capacity at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul. 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.

The state's death toll stands at 10,766 including 33 deaths newly reported on Friday. 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

Thanks to vaccinations, Minnesota is better positioned now than during its fall 2020 and spring 2021 spikes. 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.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

Listen to Friday’s COVID-19 briefing from the state’s top public health officials: