COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continue to decline in Minnesota, according to a data update Friday, but the state still has a high level of coronavirus transmission and little critical care capacity to treat the sickest patients.
While overall COVID hospitalizations dropped in one week from 1,678 to 1,554 on Thursday, the latest count included 374 patients needing intensive care because of breathing problems or other complications from infections. That brought the state closer to the one-day record in November 2020 — before vaccine was available — of 399 COVID patients in ICU beds.
Health officials on Thursday warned that Minnesota hospitals are swamped and that any further uptick in viral transmissions and patients could overwhelm them. COVID and non-COVID patients took up all but 18 of 1,012 available adult ICU beds on Thursday.
“We’re in an important moment here,” said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, who urged Minnesotans to seek vaccines and be mindful of infections risks during the holidays that can be addressed with mask-wearing and social distancing.
Minnesota appears to have peaked in its fourth and latest COVID wave, barring a reversal over the holidays or rapid spread of the highly infectious omicron coronavirus variant that was found in the state last month. The state had the highest rate of new infections in the United States for much of November but now ranks 15th as COVID case rates have accelerated in the northeast, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state on Friday reported 54 more COVID deaths and 3,854 coronavirus infections, raising its pandemic totals to 10,111 deaths and 979,283 infections. Even at a slowing case rate, Minnesota is on pace to surpass 1 million total infections by year’s end — including as many as 12,000 people infected more than once.
While 85% of COVID deaths have been seniors, health officials have reported more younger adult deaths in the latest wave that is being driven by the delta variant. Friday’s reported deaths included someone 25 to 29 from Ramsey County and three Minnesotans in the 30 to 39 age range.
State leaders said they were hopeful that continued progress with new COVID vaccinations has made a difference, along with booster doses, in people who suffered waning immunity six or more months after their initial shots.
More than 75% of eligible Minnesotans five and older have received at least first vaccine doses, according to the CDC. Among fully vaccinated adults in Minnesota, 45% have received boosters. Minnesota’s booster rate remains second highest in the nation.
While initial studies globally suggest the vaccine is slightly less effective at preventing omicron infections, it still appears to reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death, said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director.
“The expectation is if people are boosted, and we are able to raise their neutralizing antibodies through that booster dose, that that will increase protection against hospitalization and death,” she said.
Genomic sequencing of a sampling of positive COVID-19 specimens in Minnesota so far has found seven infections involving the omicron variant.