Minnesota hospitalizations for COVID-19 cases remain at the highest level for the year, according to the latest numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Coronavirus patients filled 1,462 hospital beds, including 330 in intensive care units as of Wednesday — the most recent statistics because no data was released on Thanksgiving Day.
Federal officials have sent reinforcements to help Minnesota's overwhelmed hospital staff during the current surge that is being fueled by the delta variant. A team of about 20 doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists from the Air Force began helping this week with patients at Hennepin Healthcare's HCMC hospital in Minneapolis, allowing the hospital to create a unit to address emergency room backlogs.
Next week, another federal medical response team is expected to begin work at CentraCare — St. Cloud Hospital, which is operating at capacity because of the increase in COVID patients.
"Having this team come help right now is both a physical and morale booster for them," said Kathy Parsons, CentraCare's vice president of population health. "The [hospital] staff is tired emotionally and physically."
The medical team, which is likely to be from the Air Force, will spend at least 30 days working in the hospital's emergency room, intensive care unit and anywhere else it's needed, Parsons said.
Considering that there's a high percentage of unvaccinated people, the stream of COVID cases likely won't let up anytime soon, particularly with people gathering during the holiday season that began with Thanksgiving, Parsons said.
Meanwhile, some smaller rural hospitals that primarily provide basic care, such as childbirths and surgeries, are more often having to keep COVID patients who require complex care because the St. Cloud hospital has no room, Parsons said.
With the help of telehealth, the St. Cloud staff has frequently provided guidance for those complex cases in the smaller hospitals, she said.
Meanwhile, the influx of COVID cases means other patients who suffer a traumatic event, such as a heart attack or stroke, might have a harder time getting a hospital bed, Parsons said.
"I tell everyone I know to drive carefully," she said. "Nobody can afford to have a traumatic incident right now."
Minnesota health officials, however, are holding onto a glimmer of hope that new infections are leveling off. Health officials on Friday confirmed 4,131 new cases, bringing Minnesota's cumulative COVID case count to 895,229.
The state also reported 56 COVID-related deaths. Throughout the pandemic, people ages 65 or older have suffered the most from the disease, but Wednesday's report included eight people ages 50-59 and three people ages 30-49.
The unvaccinated continue to be the most at risk of hospitalization and death.
Of the nearly 3.3 million Minnesotans 12 years and older who have been fully vaccinated, about 2.5% have suffered breakthrough infections, but most have been protected from severe outcomes.
Staff writer Christopher Snowbeck contributed to this report.