The number of COVID-19 patients needing intensive care in Minnesota hospitals increased over the weekend, underscoring the continued threat of the pandemic despite vaccination progress in the state.

The 172 COVID-19 patients in hospital ICU beds on Sunday was a sharp increase from a recent low of 37 on March 6, but remained below the record 399 on Dec. 1 during the last pandemic wave. There were 682 total COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota on Sunday.

The latest hospital figures were reported Monday along with six more COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota and 1,292 more infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease. The additions bring Minnesota's toll in the pandemic to 7,020 deaths and 557,665 known infections.

While the average age of COVID-19 hospital patients has dropped into the 50s — reflecting the vaccination of high-risk senior citizens in Minnesota — many are still suffering severe levels of illness, said Dr. Melanie Swift, a co-chair of Mayo Clinic's COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

"We are seeing younger people getting infected and we're seeing younger people with more serious disease than we saw in previous waves of COVID," said Swift, adding that more infectious variants of SARS-CoV-2 are causing up to 70% of the new infections.

COVID-19 death numbers have not increased at the same rate, though, and state health officials said that could be due to 85% of high-risk Minnesota seniors receiving COVID-19 vaccine. That age group has suffered 89% of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths, including all six deaths reported Monday.

Overall, 52% of eligible Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. That equates to nearly 2.3 million Minnesotans who have at least received a first dose and more than 1.6 million who have completed the one- or two-dose series.

State health officials have launched a "Roll Up Your Sleeves" publicity campaign to continue vaccination progress and bring Minnesota closer to an 80% goal that could achieve herd immunity and stifle the spread of the virus.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744