It's nearly been a year since Minnesota saw as many COVID-19 cases reported in a single day as it did Friday when the state health department reported 3,714 cases.
It's the most cases in a single day since the state reported 4,430 on Dec. 14, 2020, which marked the tail end of a difficult month and a half that saw between 3,000 and 9,000 new cases reported every day from Nov. 2 to Dec. 15.
How this current surge is going to behave is a massive mystery. Is Friday the height of it and Minnesota is about to see cases drop gradually or rapidly? Or is Minnesota still on the way up, and if so, how much longer before we reach the peak?
"While we all hope and want to believe that 3,700+ cases is near the peak of the current wave, one thing we’ve learned in this pandemic is to not make predictions about it. We expect to see high case numbers again in the coming days, so it’s hard to say where they will go from here," said MDH infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann.
"But it’s important to know that with safe and effective vaccines widely available and with measures that we know work to slow or prevent the spread of this virus, like masking and social distancing, each of us has the ability to affect whether this is the peak or not."
The sheer volume of cases in the current wave is beginning to dwarf the spring surge, where the most cases reported was 3,012 on April 6. Earlier this week the Minnesota Department of Health reported that Minnesota's hospitals were caring for 800 COVID-19 patients. That number stood at 799 on Friday, exceeding the high point of 717 hospitalizations during the spring wave.
Ehresmann says the current wave is "behaving all too similarly" to the spring and winter surges, though the overwhelming infectiousness of the delta variant is the key difference. Ehresmann said the delta variant is "spreading more quickly and to more people" than the alpha variant did in the spring.
The infection rate of delta is 7, meaning that one person, on average, infects 7 others. The alpha variant's infection rate was around 2-3, according to Ehresmann.
Making matters worse now is the staffing shortages hospitals face. As of Friday, the number of staffed ICU beds available around the state are increasingly hard to find. The graphic below shows how many staff ICU beds are available in each region, and the percentage of total staffed beds they represent.
Just 16 staffed ICU beds were available in the metro region, which represents 2.5% of the total remaining. A higher level of staffed ICU beds are available in west-central and southwestern Minnesota. You can see all of Minnesota's COVID-19 hospital data here.
One institution battling staffing shortages is Children's Minnesota, which has implemented an "aggressive recruitment strategy" to account for employees who refuse the company's vaccine mandate.
"The effects of staffing shortages are being felt all across the Twin Cities. Like many health care organizations, Children’s Minnesota has also seen an increase in the number of children and teens coming to our emergency departments and clinics as a result of an unseasonal increase in respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)," a spokesperson from Children's Minnesota said Friday.
"We’re also seeing an increase in the number of kids seeking asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. We urge families only seeking COVID-19 tests to go to local retail pharmacies or one of the many Minnesota Department of Health sites."
Ehresmann said this wave is also different than previous waves because "we’re seeing a greater proportion of younger people becoming ill and even dying."