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Minnesota health officials believe omicron now accounts for the majority of new COVID cases in the state.

The Department of Health (MDH) has so far detected 84 cases of the omicron variant since Dec. 2, when the "variant of concern" was first confirmed in a Minnesota resident. But that figure, which includes specimens collected through Dec. 15, is "a very small fraction" of the number of positive cases, and likely a significant undercount of omicron's spread, an MDH spokesperson told Bring Me The News.

"We estimate that at least 50% of current positive specimens are omicron," the spokesperson said in an email.

Related: 41-year-old Itasca County deputy dies after battling COVID-19

Among the 84 sequenced cases is an individual who did not travel outside the state, yet was reported to MDH on Nov. 27. This suggests community transmission of the omicron variant started by late November, according to the spokesperson.

Seventy-two of the 84 confirmed omicron cases have come from the Twin Cities metro, according to MDH data, with four cases apiece in central and southeast Minnesota, two in the southwest, and one in each of the northeast and northwest regions of the state.

Health officials here have been bracing for an omicron-caused surge, potentially adding further stress to an already strained hospital system. The state on Wednesday said it had 5,215 newly reported cases – 3,000 of the cases added from a backlog – and 69 newly reported deaths, with 1,348 COVID patents currently hospitalized.

Related: Growing list of venues canceling New Year's Eve parties due to omicron

That same day, Reuters reported the average number of daily cases in the U.S. over the past seven days hit 258,312, a record for the pandemic.

The existing vaccines are still being leaned upon as critical tools in the effort to stymie the virus, with reports suggesting a two-dose regimen plus a booster shot is effective at preventing serious illness, even in the face of omicron.

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