Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Tangled trends keep surge path clouded

Staff utilize protective wear while working with COVID-19 patients
Staff utilize protective wear while working with COVID-19 patients inside negative pressure rooms at the St. Cloud Hospital’s intensive care unit in December 2021.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News 2021

3 things to know:

  • Wastewater, sample data suggest Minnesota might have peaked mid-January

  • 25 percent positive test rate, trending at highest point in pandemic

  • 1,502 hospitalized, 213 in ICU, lowest since October

Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 data remains an enigmatic jumble, making it hard to know whether to cheer or curse as the pandemic stumbles toward February.

The percentage of tests coming back positive is trending at a pandemic high. Yet wastewater data shows COVID dropping dramatically in the Twin Cities and sample-date data still implies Minnesota might have peaked statewide in mid-January.

The surge is being driven almost entirely by COVID’s omicron mutation. Friday’s report shows more than 63,000 active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, near a record daily high.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Hospitalizations are still high — 1,502 — but trending down. Intensive care demands are at their lowest point since October, with 213 currently needing an ICU bed.

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

Hospital CEOs in recent weeks have pleaded with people to stay vigilant against the disease, warning care centers are filled with patients with COVID and other needs.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz said a fourth federal medical team will help support Abbott Northwestern Hospital in the Twin Cities, and that more than 200 nurses and respiratory therapists are arriving to provide stopgap care at 32 other short-staffed Minnesota hospitals.

Meanwhile, the federal military team assigned to St. Cloud Hospital is leaving Friday after a two-month stay. The hospital’s vice president of population health Kathy Parsons said the team brought much-needed help. CentraCare requested the team stay another 30 days, but Parsons said they knew it was unlikely to get approved.

St. Cloud Hospital holds a departure ceremony
St. Cloud Hospital holds a departure ceremony for the federal military medical response team that has been helping out there since late November. The team left on Friday.
Courtesy of CentraCare

Walz also announced Thursday that the state will distribute 2.1 million KN95 masks through community groups, local public health agencies, clinics, schools, child care centers and other programs in coming weeks.

Minnesota Department of Health officials say they will focus on clinics with high proportions of Medicaid and Medicare patients.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by age

The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul 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.

Several Minnesota cities have adopted mask mandates, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, DuluthHopkins, Golden Valley, Rochester and Minnetonka. St. Cloud and Moorhead recently rejected enacting mask mandates.

The percentage of COVID tests coming back positive is trending at about 25 percent, according to MPR News calculations — five times more than the 5 percent officials find concerning.

Percent of COVID-19 tests to come back positive

Data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows all Minnesota counties currently with a high level of viral spread.

The state's death toll stands at 11,382 including 43 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.

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 77 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with more than 73 percent now completely vaccinated.

Graph showing total COVID-19 vaccinations by age

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.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

Reporters Kirsti Marohn and Tim Nelson contributed to this report.

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