Minnesotans with COVID-19 have been admitted 40,000 times to inpatient beds in U.S. hospitals since the start of the pandemic nearly 20 months ago — with the latest wave pressuring hospital capacity across the state.

The pandemic milestone was reported by the Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday along with totals of 8,457 COVID-19 deaths and 763,915 coronavirus infections. The totals in Minnesota included 21 deaths and 5,686 infections that were newly reported and reflected pandemic activity over the weekend.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota declined slightly over the weekend, from more than 1,000 on Friday to 950 on Monday, but combined with admissions for other medical reasons to consume nearly 96% of available intensive care beds and 93% of all non-ICU beds in the state.

Hospital and public health leaders said they are planning for sustained or worsening pressure in the coming weeks — with the state's reported positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing increasing to 8.5% and remaining above the 5% caution threshold for substantial viral spread.

"We still have way too many people hospitalized," Gov. Tim Walz said Monday. "Our capacity is very, very tight and we are still plateauing and not dropping off in terms of our positivity rates with this COVID surge."

However, modeling forecasts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mayo Clinic in Rochester suggest the latest wave could peak in November in Minnesota — following other states that had severe COVID-19 levels in the summer but are seeing infection numbers decline.

State leaders are hoping to boost Minnesota's first-dose COVID-19 vaccination rate — at 75.8%, according to the CDC — with a $200 gift card for new recipients 12 to 17 who receive both doses of Pfizer vaccine between Oct. 18 and Nov. 30. (The two doses are administered three weeks apart.) All recipients in the state who were 12 to 17 when vaccinated will be eligible for one of five $100,000 scholarships to attend college in Minnesota.

Vaccination levels are above 90% in Minnesota seniors but decline with age and are below 60% in eligible teenagers.

Risks of severe COVID-19 remain highest in seniors, who have made up 87% of Minnesota's deaths in the pandemic — including 13 of the 21 newly reported deaths. However, Tuesday's report included the death of a Wright County resident in the 35 to 39 age range.

Almost all people 12 to 18 hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last four months were unvaccinated, according to a CDC study of pediatric admissions to 19 hospitals, including Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.

Out of 179 patients in the study who tested positive for coronavirus infection and were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, 173 were unvaccinated. The study found the Pfizer vaccine — the only one approved for people younger than 18 — to be more than 90% effective at preventing pediatric hospitalizations despite the emergence of a fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus.

"None of the deaths were in that group," said Dr. Janet Hume, a U pediatric critical care specialist who contributed to the CDC study. "Nobody needed the ICU or a ventilator or any advanced life support in the vaccinated group."

The results mirror observational findings by the local Allina Health, HealthPartners and Sanford Health hospital systems, which have found over the past two months that vaccinated patients tend to need less intensive care.

Sanford on Tuesday reported 21 of 219 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals in the Dakotas and Minnesota were vaccinated (or 10%).

Among the 41 COVID-19 patients placed on ventilators to maintain adequate oxygen intake, only one was vaccinated. Allina Health reported a similar trend in its hospitals around the Twin Cities on Monday, with 29% of its 226 COVID-19 patients being vaccinated, including 11% of its 45 patients on ventilators.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744