Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Surge path unclear as backlogs worsen

A close up of a vial and needle.
Registered nurse Darcey McCampbell draws a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 21, 2021 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2021

3 things to know:

  • Post-holiday reporting delays continue to mask pandemic picture

  • 16 percent positive test rate, down slightly from recent peak but still high

  • 1,571 hospitalized, 241 in ICU

Minnesota’s newest COVID-19 data remains clouded by severe post-holiday reporting lags, making it difficult to know if the state’s past the current surge peak, or still climbing.

The latest wave is “creating the highest volume of lab reports since the beginning of the pandemic,” the Minnesota Health Department said in a statement, cautioning that “as of January 2022, the daily number of newly reported cases is an undercount.”

New cases reported by the department are eight days old on average, by far the biggest lag seen in the pandemic.

Currently, there are some 46,000 positive tests awaiting review from recent weeks. If those end up as confirmed cases, it will essentially eliminate the apparent drop seen lately in case counts.

The most recent data shows more than 57,000 active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, near a record high.

The percentage of COVID tests coming back positive is trending at about 16 percent, according to MPR News calculations — down slightly from its recent peak but still more than three times the 5 percent officials find concerning.

The post-holidays surge is being driven almost entirely by COVID’s omicron mutation.

COVID hospitalizations remain high — 1,571 — but the count of intensive care cases has ticked down in recent days, with 241 currently needing an ICU bed. Hospital CEOs in recent weeks have pleaded with people to stay vigilant against the disease, warning care centers are “literally full” of patients with COVID and other needs.

Minneapolis and St. Paul leaders are temporarily requiring either a proof of vaccine or a recent negative COVID test for customers at all businesses where people are eating and drinking. On Thursday, Duluth’s mayor ordered a 30-day mask mandate for indoor public gathering spaces.

There is some recent evidence suggesting the Twin Cities, at least, may have turned a corner in the current surge.

Data released earlier this week showed COVID levels in Twin Cities wastewater peaked around Jan. 10 and then started falling. Scientists with the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota’s Genomic Center have found that levels of COVID-19 viral material in the wastewater closely predicts what traditional case counts will show.

Statewide, the surge’s path remains unclear. Data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show all Minnesota counties currently with a high level of viral spread.

The state's death toll stands at 11,151 including 36 newly reported deaths. 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.

Thanks to vaccinations, Minnesota is better positioned now than during its fall 2020 and spring 2021 spikes: more than 77 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with 73 percent now completely vaccinated.

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

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