Intensive care admissions of people with severe COVID-19 reached 202 in Minnesota on Thursday, exceeding 200 for the first time since late December on the downside of the last pandemic wave.

The latest COVID-19 data for Minnesota underscored the severity of the pandemic, despite vaccine progress — with the state on Friday reporting another 10 deaths and 2,167 infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease. But the data also offered some hopeful signs that the current wave is peaking.

The positivity rate of recent diagnostic testing — a key measure of viral prevalence — rose from 3.5% on March 3 to 7.4% on April 11, but has since declined to 7.1%

Infection numbers have shown "signs of stabilizing in the last week," state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said on Thursday. "We really do believe that the end of the pandemic is in sight, but we're not there yet. And, frankly, how quickly we get there is not a given. It depends entirely on the decisions we all make now and over the coming weeks."

Malcolm urged eligible people 16 and older to seek COVID-19 vaccine amid signs of increased availability and easier access to appointments at clinics, pharmacies and public health events. The state on Friday reported that nearly 2.4 million people — 54% of the eligible population — had received some vaccine and that more than 1.7 million people had completed the one- or two-dose series.

Health officials also urge continued COVID-19 testing, offering to provide free kits to school districts starting next week. The state recommends testing of K-12 students who have returned to in-person classes every two weeks — especially those in middle and high schools — and student athletes every week or three days before games.

The state has received results of nearly 9 million completed tests since the start of the pandemic and reported a total of 564,584 infections and 7,064 COVID-19 deaths.

Nearly 86% of Minnesota's senior citizens have received vaccine, so the latest wave of viral transmission has resulted in more illnesses and hospitalizations among younger adults and children. The state on Thursday reported 689 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota overall, including the 202 ICU cases.

Minneapolis-based Allina Health on Friday reported that 30% of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients in April have been 65 or older, compared with 60% in November and December last year. One-third of the 691 COVID-19 patients admitted to Allina hospitals this month have been age 50 to 64, and 85% of the patients in that age group of patients have not received any vaccine.

Hospitalization numbers have lagged infection numbers by about two weeks throughout the pandemic. Hospital leaders are planning for elevated COVID-19 admissions for at least another two weeks, but are hoping that the recent leveling off in infections predicts a decline in hospitalizations in early May.

COVID-19 death numbers have not increased over the past month at the same rate as hospitalizations, suggesting that vaccination of senior citizens and others at elevated risk of severe illness has had a protective effect. None of the 10 deaths reported Friday involved residents of long-term care facilities, which were prioritized for vaccination earlier this year.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744