Eighty-three more COVID-19 deaths were reported in Minnesota on Thursday, contributing to a surge in fatalities from the pandemic that state health officials hope will decline soon amid improving infection and hospitalization rates.

The Minnesota Department of Health has reported 4,658 COVID-19 deaths, and 460 in the last seven days — one of the deadliest one-week stretches in the pandemic.

The deaths reported Thursday included only the 10th involving someone 29 or younger in Minnesota, and 52 residents of long-term care or assisted-living facilities who are at elevated risk due to their ages and underlying health conditions. More than 80% of all COVID-19 deaths have involved people 70 or older.

Health officials predicted that infections would peak first in the fall COVID-19 wave followed by hospitalizations two to three weeks later and then deaths — and that sequence has so far proven correct.

Thursday's update to the state pandemic response dashboard showed the daily rate of new infections, based on a seven-day rolling average, dropped from 123 per 100,000 people on Nov. 11 to 73 on Dec. 8.

Lab-confirmed infections with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have continued to drop since that date. The state reported 2,775 newly diagnosed cases on Thursday, bringing its total in the pandemic to 389,171 when including 358,667 people who have recovered to the point they are no longer considered infectious.

The number of people with COVID-19 filling Minnesota hospital intensive care beds dropped from 402 on Dec. 1 to 289 on Wednesday. Hospitals had deferred non-urgent surgeries to preserve bed space for COVID-19 patients, but the number of ICU beds filled with non-COVID patients has increased from a low of 689 on Dec. 6 to 805.

State officials urged Minnesotans to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing in public, even with the first limited shipments of COVID-19 arriving this week for distribution to health care workers.

A new state emergency order taking effect Saturday expanded the sizes of social gatherings — allowing for up to 10 people from two households indoors, or 15 people from three households outdoors — but state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said COVID-19 remains a widespread problem and that large groups can fuel outbreaks.

The order by Gov. Tim Walz also kept indoor bars and restaurants closed, but reopened fitness centers at limited capacities and allowed for the resumption of amateur sports practices but not games on Jan. 4.

Upper Midwest states had the nation's highest COVID-19 rates a month ago, but are now seeing declines as the pandemic radiates out toward the coasts. States from Arizona to Maine are now reporting their highest new infection rates in the pandemic.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744