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Not for the first time, Minnesota health officials are urging all unvaccinated residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine to help prevent further spread of the coronavirus, which is once again raging statewide. 

"Right now we find ourselves in a really truly alarming spike in cases in recent days," said Minnesota health commissioner Jan Malcolm, referring to the situation as a "COVID blizzard." 

Based on the date samples were collected, the state averaged 4,000 cases every day Nov. 1-5, with incomplete data yet to be revealed for the days since. 

  • Nov. 1 - 4,311 cases
  • Nov. 2 - 3,191
  • Nov. 3 - 3,989
  • Nov. 4 - 4,037
  • Nov. 5 - 3,742

What's more, the large numbers reported in the state's daily updates indicate that nothing is slowing down. On Monday, the state reported 4,253 new cases, which represented data from Nov. 6.

On Tuesday the state reported 7,173 cases (mainly from Saturday and Sunday) and there were 5,277 cases reported Wednesday, though data in the past two reports includes potentially thousands of backlogged cases that the health department simply didn't have the manpower to get to over the weekend. 

"This spike is bad. It's scary, but it would be so much worse, especially with many many more hospitalizations and deaths, if it weren't for the fact that most Minnesotans now do have the protection of the vaccine," said Malcolm. 

"But many people, close to 40% of our state, are still not protected. We need all Minnesotans to recognize the fact that in a pandemic storm like this one caused by the delta variant, individual decisions have implications. Implications not only for the person but for their families, their communities and in fact the entire state." 

While it is the case that around 40% of Minnesotans aren't fully vaccinated (a figure that includes children who are ineligible for the vaccine or were ineligible until recently), at least some of the remainder may have immunity from a past COVID-19 infection. However, a CDC study recently found that getting vaccinated is more effective at preventing a COVID infection than relying on immunity from a past bout, and is also far more effective at preventing hospitalization and death.

But MDH says that waning immunity from the COVID vaccine may be playing a partial role in the current surge in cases, which comes at a time when those eligible for COVID-19 booster shots are being encouraged to get them.

"There is growing consensus among state health officials and clinical leaders and research leaders that waning immunity does have something to do with this most recent wave," said Malcolm.  

She believes many of the breakthrough cases in Minnesota are among people who were vaccinated earliest. The first vaccine recipients in Minnesota got their shot Dec. 15, 2020, with the vaccination process expanding and rolling out in the months that have followed. 

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Kris Ehresmann, director of the infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health, says waning immunity, relaxation of mitigation measures, and cold weather leading to more time indoors are among the possible explanations for the alarming case levels. But all in all, the delta variant is simply "feeding itself." 

"You start building and you've got a lot of transmission and it just keeps building. All in all, when you look at the data over the last number of weeks, it has just been in general a steady uptick in cases. I think that's because the more cases there are, the more virus is circulating. It's unfortunate ... it feeds itself," said Ehresmann.

The large number of cases has led to hospitalization levels not seen since mid-December, 2020. As of Nov. 9, there were 1,159 patients COVID-19 being treated at Minnesota hospitals, including 257 in intensive care. 

Because of limited capacity around the state (there were only 42 staffed ICU beds available in the entire state through Tuesday), patients are being diverted through regional hospital coordination efforts. 

Allina Health told Bring Me The News that it is "optimizing care across our health system and collaborating with other healthcare systems to ensure that patients that need us are getting the care they need." 

"We are in the midst of a prolonged pandemic, and we recognize and understand this has been extremely stressful for our staff and for the communities we serve," the Allina Health spokesperson said. 

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