Minnesota is hurtling toward COVID-19 levels rates not seen since pre-vaccination November-December 2020 – with health officials expressing fears that the current delta variant-driven surge could reach the alarming levels of a year ago.
Minnesota surpassed 9,000 deaths in Tuesday's update from the health department, reaching 9,047. The state has confirmed between 99 and 134 deaths seven weeks in a row for a total of 843 fatal cases between Sept. 19 and Nov. 6 – an average of 17 new deaths per day.
Tuesday's update also revealed Minnesota reached a 7-day average test positivity rate of 10.3% as of Nov. 8, which puts Minnesota in the high-risk threshold for the first time since Dec. 8, 2020, when the state was on the decline after reaching a 15.1% positivity rate during the virus' peak in November 2020.
Minnesota had 13 consecutive weeks from May to early August with a weekly test positivity rate under 5%.
But in the 13 weeks since Aug. 7, all of the numbers have been steadily rising with the exception of a brief decrease in mid-to-late October, which follows the spread of the more contagious delta variant across the state.
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Hospital cases surging closer to 2020 heights
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota have been rocketing upward over the past two weeks, with Tuesday's report from the state health department confirming the state has the most concurrent COVID-19 patients since Dec. 11, 2020.
Through Nov. 15, the number of people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Minnesota was 1,348, including 307 people in intensive care. On Dec. 11, 2020, there were 1,406 people – including 340 in intensive care – hospitalized with the coronavirus.
COVID hospitalizations have surged this month, rising 37.7% over the past two weeks from 979 to 1,348, and ICU cases rising by the same amount from 223 to 307.
The state reached a pandemic-high of 1,864 COVID hospitalizations on Nov. 30, 2020, but health systems across Minnesota now have fewer members of staff than they did a year ago, putting further strain on hospital capacity.
According to FOX 9's Theo Keith, Gov. Tim Walz told some media members at an event in St. Paul that this wave will prove to be the worst of the pandemic. Asked if that could be true, Malcolm replied:
"We are alarmed by the numbers that we've seen in the last week, and it looks as though, at least in recent days, the pace of growth is picking up and starting to look like that vertical part of the curve that we saw last fall. We certainly hope that we won't not going to see cases at that level, but given where we're sitting at right now with the case trends, we can't rule that out."
Malcolm noted that a huge factor in the difficulty of the current situation is that staffing shortages are more "permanent" rather than temporary like they were a year ago at hospitals.
The still-bad-but-better-than-Monday update is that the state's staffed available ICU beds increased from 33 on Monday to 46 in Tuesday's report, though beds are extremely limited, especially in the northeast, central, metro and southeast regions of the state.
The Walz administration has launched two alternate care sites – in Brainerd and Shakopee – to take some of the strain off hospitals by offering services to those who no longer need acute care but aren't well enough to return home.
The governor will address Minnesota in a press conference Wednesday. He will be speaking from the United Kingdom, where he is currently on a trade trip.