Hospital admissions for COVID-19 have risen to a level not seen in Minnesota since the start of June.
At least 380 people were admitted for COVID-19 to Minnesota hospitals in the seven-day period ending Saturday, and at least 64 were admitted Wednesday alone. That is the highest single-day admission total since May 26, when Minnesota’s first wave of severe COVID-19 cases peaked and the state reported 78 hospital admissions.
The increase in hospitalizations followed rising infections with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in young adults and teenagers, who then spread the virus to others at greater risk of severe illness, said Kris Ehresmann, state infectious disease director.
“It takes a while for the impact to work its way out,” she said. “So you have the first generation of cases in the young age group, but as you see more cases in more groups ultimately you are going to get to your more vulnerable populations.”
The state on Tuesday also reported five COVID-19 deaths and 817 newly confirmed infections. That brings Minnesota’s totals in the pandemic to 2,020 deaths, 7,633 hospitalizations and 98,447 infections.
The state’s list of long-term care facilities with at least one confirmed COVID-19 infection in the last 28 days has grown to 283 — up 27 from last week.
People who are 70 or older have the greatest risk — representing less than 10% of known infections but more than 80% of COVID-19 deaths. Tuesday’s confirmed deaths include four people 70 and older and one person in the 60 to 64 age range.
Most SARS-CoV-2 infections produce mild or no symptoms. The state reported that 88,380 people have recovered and are no longer considered at risk of spreading the virus.
However, rapid infection growth in border states appears to have spilled into Minnesota, which last week was downgraded by the COVID Exit Strategy website to the same level of “uncontrolled spread” of the pandemic that already existed in Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas.
North Dakota has the nation’s highest rate of 513 newly confirmed infections per million people per two weeks, the tracking website states. Minnesota’s rate remains one of the lowest in the Midwest but is now 170.
Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 hospital figures showed 112 admissions in the seven-day period ending Saturday into intensive care units due to breathing problems or other complications from infections. That was the highest seven-day ICU admission tally since June 1.
The uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations comes amid what some critics have argued is an ill-timed switch in how the Minnesota Department of Health reports data. The state last week stopped reporting the total daily number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 and instead started reporting new COVID-19 admissions to hospitals and their intensive care units.
Ehresmann said the switch was made to highlight new admissions, “which are more meaningful measures to tell us about the severity of disease than just looking at how many people are in the hospital on a given day.”
Lost in the switch was a numerical assessment of whether hospitals were nearing capacity levels due to the pandemic. Ehresmann said a more complete assessment is already available on the state COVID-19 response dashboard, which lists the total number of ICU beds filled — by COVID-19 patients and all others.
The switch generated opposition from Republican leaders who have taken issue with many facets of Minnesota’s COVID-19 response under Gov. Tim Walz. But the Minnesota Hospital Association expressed concern Tuesday as well, because its hospitals had been providing the data and had come to rely on the old method of reporting total hospitalizations for planning.
Hospital leaders felt it was the “most important” data point and want the Health Department to restore it, particularly with COVID-19 hospital cases on the rise, said Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and chief executive of the Minnesota Hospital Association.
“If you don’t know how many COVID patients are in the hospital today and in the ICUs today across the state, that leaves a big gap of critical knowledge that hospitals and health care systems need,” he said.
Ehresmann said new hospital data elements might be added to the state response dashboard soon to address such concerns, and that the state’s weekly COVID-19 report on Thursdays will include important new hospital statistics, including the average length of stay of infected patients.
Capacity data on Minnesota’s pandemic response dashboard showed on Tuesday that 1,071 of 1,222 available ICU beds were filled with patients who have COVID-19 or unrelated medical or surgical needs. That rate of ICU usage is common in Minnesota, even without a pandemic. The state has an additional 936 ICU beds on standby to address a surge in the pandemic.
The state dashboard also indicates that 432 ventilators are in use by COVID-19 and other patients to maintain adequate oxygen supply. Another 2,879 ventilators are on hand if needed in an emergency.
Concerns about limited ventilator supply in the spring have eased due to this surplus and alternative forms of oxygen management in COVID-19 patients that have reduced the need for these devices.
The uptick in hospitalizations also was reflected in one of the five target goals that state health officials use to evaluate their progress in the pandemic. The state had been trending favorably and had almost reached its goal of no more than 4 COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people per week.
That rate increased starting on Sept. 15, though, and is now at 5.6.