Latest on COVID-19 in MN: State on recovery road from omicron wave

A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine
A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine during a pop-up clinic at Harvest Prep School-Seed Academy in Minneapolis on Nov. 19, 2021.
Tim Evans for MPR News 2021

3 things to know:

  • 1,366 hospitalized; 204 in ICU, near the lowest since September

  • Metrics suggest Minnesota’s COVID-19 outbreak probably peaked several weeks ago, especially in the Twin Cities

  • Active case counts dropping

Minnesota is recovering from its omicron-driven COVID-19 wave, although levels of new cases and hospitalizations remain high.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows that new cases and positivity rate peaked statewide around Jan. 10. That likely represents when COVID-19 peaked in the Twin Cities metro area, which got hit by omicron before the rest of the state. Meanwhile, hospitalization needs are also falling, especially for hard-hit intensive care unit beds.

Although key COVID-19 metrics are falling, they remain at high levels. Case counts and positivity rates remain at or above Minnesota’s previous all-time highs, and only around 5 percent of Minnesota’s hospital beds are currently available.

Graph showing COVID-19 hospitalizations by region

Minnesota’s improving COVID-19 metrics have come into focus in the past week as health officials finally cleared a massive backlog of cases that built up during the state’s omicron surge. With data now relatively current, it gives reason to hope Minnesota will soon be emerging from months of high COVID prevalence.

Overall, there are around 46,000 active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota. That’s down dramatically from mid-January, when active cases topped 67,000.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

Hospitalizations are still high — 1,366 — but trending down. Intensive care demands are near their lowest point since September, with 204 COVID patients currently occupying ICU beds.

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Wastewater data released Monday by the Metropolitan Council showed COVID-19 rates in the Twin Cities region back to where they were in mid-November and still falling, as of Jan. 26.

Vigilance is still needed. The numbers are still relatively high. In July, Minnesota appeared to be through the worst of the pandemic, and then the omicron variant hit hard.

The current wave appears to be past its peak, Mayo Clinic data scientist Curtis Storlie told MPR News on Monday. There will continue to be thousands more positive test results and hospitalizations, he added, so people should still take precautions.

"It means we're half done with this current surge,” Storlie said. “So I think it's important to recognize the omicron surge is not over. There's going to be thousands of infections and hospitalizations on the way back down, too."

Storlie also noted that while state cases overall have peaked, some areas in rural Minnesota may not yet have reached their peak level of COVID infections.

New COVID-19 cases per capita by age

To address a surge of patients from the latest COVID wave, a third military medical team is poised to start work at a Minnesota hospital this week.

The 23-person team, including doctors, nurses, pharmacy technicians and commanding officers, arrived at Abbott Northwestern hospital in Minneapolis last week, and will start filling shifts there on Wednesday.

Carol Koeppel-Olsen, a chief nurse at Abbott, said the staff is currently caring for more than 90 COVID patients.

The team will be at the medical center for 30 days and could be extended another 30 days. An Army medical team previously worked at HCMC, and an Air Force medical team recently wrapped up a support mission in St. Cloud.

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.

As of last week, the most recent date for which COVID-19 data is mostly complete, Minnesota was averaging a positivity rate of around 15.8 percent. That’s down from 21 percent on Jan. 11, and moving steadily downward.

Graph of COVID positivity rate by sample date

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 11,516 including 59 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