The intensive care units at 50 of 68 Minnesota hospitals capable of providing critical care to patients are completely full, according to the latest data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Overall, there are enough skilled nursing staff to care for an additional 27 patients who need to be treated in an ICU in Minnesota. The state's hospital system currently has an adult ICU capacity of 1,012, of which 985 beds are currently occupied – 35% of whom are COVID-19 patients.
The grim capacity picture is partially the product of more than 1,500 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota for the first time since Dec. 9, 2020, when there were 1,538 patients being treated for the coronavirus.
There are 1,532 people with COVID-19 admitted to Minnesota hospitals, including 343 in intensive care. Adult ICU capacity is extremely limited statewide, with single digit staffed beds available in all eight regions of the state.
The capacity remains tight despite two teams of 22 medical professionals being sent to Minnesota by the federal government. One team is assisting at St. Cloud Hospital and the other is at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
This is the result of the rise of the delta variant, which spreads easily from person-to-person and is capable of causing more severe disease, especially among the unvaccinated.
For example, the eight hospitals operated by CentraCare and Carris Health in greater Minnesota were caring for 117 COVID-19 inpatients on Monday, and 76% of them were unvaccinated.
When visiting the CentraCare website, users are greeted with a pop-up message that essentially begs people to get vaccinated and get a booster shot.
"The challenge of providing this level of care is that our hospital beds are often full. ERs in all of our hospitals are packed. And our clinical teams are exhausted. Early in the pandemic, our community stepped up in amazing ways to help us. We ask that you again join us in fighting this pandemic together," the message reads.
Sanford Health, which is based in Sioux Falls and has hospitals all over the Dakotas and Minnesota, was treating 219 COVID-19 inpatients as of Nov. 23 and just 7% were vaccinated. Only three of 61 ICU inpatients were vaccinated.
Minnesota was down to fewer than 20 ICU patients and 75 non-ICU patients in early July before the delta variant became dominant.
Numbers gradually rose in August and September but have since exploded, with ICU admissions jumping 59% in the past month, going from 215 on Oct. 29 to 343 on Nov. 29. Non-ICU admissions have skyrocketed 70%, rising from 698 on Oct. 29 to 1,189 on Nov. 29.
What remains to be seen is how high hospitalizations will get. The ICU peak during the pandemic was set Dec. 1, 2020 with 399 inpatients in Minnesota, and the non-ICU peak was recorded Nov. 29, 2020 with 1,471 inpatients.
The longest stretch of at least 300 ICU COVID-19 inpatients was Nov. 14 to Dec. 15 last year, which saw ICU admissions peak at 399 on Dec. 1. The current wave has kept at least 300 people in the ICU every day since Nov. 12.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the White House, recommends that anyone six months from their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get the booster as soon as possible, whereas people who are beyond two months from the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get a booster shot.
This messaging has intensified in recent days with the emergence of the omicron variant, details of which with regards to transmissibility, vaccine efficacy, and severity of symptoms are still to be confirmed.
Everyone in Minnesota over the age of 18 is eligible to get a booster shot, while kids ages 5-17 are eligible to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Minnesota is among the national leaders for vaccine boosters, with 932,115 of them administered since they became available.