Forty COVID-19 deaths were reported in Minnesota on Wednesday as the state grapples with a pandemic wave that might not be as severe as those in other states but could last longer.

The newly reported deaths raise Minnesota's toll in the pandemic to 8,243, and include two people in the 25 to 29 age range from Anoka and Chisago counties and one person in the 30 to 34 age range from Ramsey County. While 87% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths have been in seniors, the state has now reported 84 deaths in people younger than 40.

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday said an increase in COVID-19 deaths was unfortunately expected following an increase in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. The Minnesota Department of Health reported another 3,886 corona­virus infections on Wednesday, raising the state's total since the start of the pandemic to 729,334.

The number of COVID-19 cases receiving inpatient care in Minnesota hospitals increased on Tuesday to 864, including 224 people receiving intensive care because of breathing problems or other complications from their infections.

More than 95% of the state's staffed ICU beds were occupied on Tuesday when including patients receiving treatment for non-COVID issues.

Walz on Tuesday urged unvaccinated Minnesotans to seek inoculations against COVID-19 and against the threat of seasonal influenza that could compound the state's hospital capacity concerns. Walz talked with lawmakers Tuesday about whether new state interventions are needed to address the pandemic.

"I am concerned that if we see a particularly bad flu season, it would start to pinch those beds," he said. "My pledge at the start of COVID was that every Minnesotan who needed a bed and needed care would get one, and that we would do all we could to protect those [beds]. That is still the case."

Mayo Clinic pandemic modeling predicts that the latest wave won't be as severe in Minnesota as it was in other states, but it might last longer. Minnesota's above average vaccination rate — with more than 75% of people 12 and older having received at least a first dose — could be preventing a worse surge, but other factors ranging from mask-wearing to nice weather and outdoor activities could have an influence, said Curtis Storlie, one of the creators of the Mayo COVID-19 model.

Wednesday's updated ensemble modeling forecast by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention similarly predicted little change in Minnesota's COVID-19 case numbers throughout October.

The 40 COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday in Minnesota included 38 that occurred in September and October. Two were from earlier months and, after review, were belatedly linked to the pandemic. The rolling average of COVID-19 deaths by date of occurrence has increased from eight deaths per week in mid-July in Minnesota to more than 80 per week now.

While COVID-19 vaccine doesn't prevent all infections, studies have found that it remains strongly protective against severe illness and hospitalization. Minneapolis-based Allina Health on Wednesday reported that 32% of its 226 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday were fully vaccinated.

But, Allina said, only 15% of its 33 COVID-19 patients placed on ventilators were fully vaccinated.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744