Ninety-two additional COVID-19 deaths and 6,166 lab-confirmed infections were reported Thursday in Minnesota, which is jockeying with the Dakotas for the nation's highest rate of new cases in the pandemic.

Thursday's update by the Minnesota Department of Health brought the state's totals in the pandemic to 3,784 deaths and 333,626 infections.

While daily COVID-19 numbers tend to be elevated on Thursdays, the latest report represented the second-highest daily tally of deaths in the pandemic. The figures included a jail inmate, 42 people who lived in private residences and 48 people who lived in long-term care and have tended to be at elevated risk of severe COVID-19 because of their ages and underlying health conditions.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday said Minnesotans might be excited by news of COVID-19 vaccines coming, but that they need to "dig deep" and stick with mask-wearing, social distancing and his order that limits gatherings to immediate households to reduce the spread of the infectious disease.

"We are right in the teeth of it," Walz said, adding that "the math is relentless. Hospitalizations follow cases. Deaths follow hospitalizations."

Minnesota on Thursday had the nation's second-highest rate of 967 infections per million people per day with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the COVID Exit Strategy website. Only South Dakota had a higher rate, which is based on a rolling average of infections reported in the last seven days.

Minnesota was last in the Upper Midwest to see its infection rate surge this fall, and its peak appears to be coming last as well. The Dakotas and Wisconsin have seen their rates fall from well above 1,000 in the past week.

Pressure on Minnesota hospitals appears to have at least leveled off. The state's pandemic response dashboard on Thursday showed that 376 people with COVID-19 were admitted to intensive care beds in Minnesota hospitals. They represented 34% of all ICU patients in Minnesota hospitals, which have taken steps such as delaying non-urgent surgeries to preserve bed space through this fall's wave of COVID-19 cases.

That is a decline from 394 COVID-19 ICU patients on Nov. 30, but remains well above the 197 such patients admitted to Minnesota hospitals on Nov. 1.

The dashboard showed that 1,110 of 1,212 immediately available ICU beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19 or unrelated medical concerns — a nearly 92% usage rate. Minnesota hospitals have another 956 surge beds available if needed, though, and 21 of them are in use.

Minnesota's positivity rate of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has fallen from 15.6% on Nov. 10 to 10.9% on Nov. 24 — an indication that viral spread is slowing down. However, neither that rate or the latest case data reflect the impact of gatherings over Thanksgiving, which could have kick-started viral activity. COVID-19 symptoms can take up to 14 days to surface after infections.

"People are getting lulled by some decreases in ours and surrounding states but the percent positive tests on aggressive testing volumes are critically high," said Dr. John Hick, a Hennepin Healthcare physician who has helped coordinate Minnesota's response to the pandemic. "People have got to reduce contacts."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744