ST. PAUL — A frustrating and complicated week around COVID-19 in Minnesota is closing out with no clear sense of the pandemic’s next steps.
Signs earlier in the week that the disease might have been ebbing have been eclipsed by news that COVID-19’s omicron variant has surfaced in the state. On Friday, Dec. 3, Minnesota Health Department data showed strong indications of a Thanksgiving-related surge in cases.
The omicron discovery in Minnesota is a “wake-up call, if we needed another one, that this remains a global challenge that continues to evolve,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday. “Even though we may feel we’re done with the pandemic, it’s certainly not done with us.”
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Hospitalizations and intensive care cases have ticked down from recent peaks but remain high. Bed counts that fell below 100 in mid-July jumped in the late fall; 1,556 people are hospitalized now with COVID with 353 needing intensive care.
Hospital executives across the state say COVID-19 patients combined with other care needs have been overwhelming short-staffed care centers. Hospitals in this wave are seeing more people needing treatment for other illnesses along with people who delayed getting care over the past year and a half.
Data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show all Minnesota counties, except for Lake of the Woods County, currently with a high level of virus transmission.
The current surge, driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant, has been particularly hard on greater Minnesota.
Friday’s numbers, however, show an interesting split in the Twin Cities seven-county metro area right now. Case rates are lowest in the state in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, but among the highest in the state in the surrounding suburban counties.
Officials had been concerned about a possible bounce from the Thanksgiving holiday, which brought many people together indoors for celebrations, the kind of conditions that lead to more viral spread.
Earlier in the week, the count of known, active COVID cases in the state slipped to 27,435, the lowest point in three weeks. By Friday, though, it had climbed again, to 33,718. The seven-day daily average of newly reported cases rose to nearly 3,900, significantly higher than on Monday.
The state's death toll stands at 9,616, including 62 deaths newly reported on Friday. Deaths typically follow a surge in cases and hospitalizations. In past COVID-19 waves, it’s been the last of the key metrics to improve.
The state seems better positioned now than during its fall 2020 and spring 2021 spikes. More than 75 percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with more than 71 percent now completely vaccinated.
The state is seeing progress in getting booster shots into Minnesotans who’ve already been vaccinated.
However, the struggle continues to get first shots into more Minnesotans. Wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.