The unprecedented number of COVID-19 deaths continued Thursday with another 72 fatalities and 7,877 cases announced by state health officials.
It is another record-setting one-day increase in the state's coronavirus death tally. The previous high was reached just on Wednesday when 67 deaths were announced by the Minnesota Department of Health.
So far the pandemic has led to the deaths of 3,082 Minnesotans. Many of them died of lung-related COVID-19 complications, such as pneumonia and respiratory failure.
At least 249,906 Minnesotans have been sickened by the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Since October, state health officials have said case growth is driven by spread throughout the community rather than large outbreaks in high-risk settings such as food processing plants or long-term care facilities, as was common early in the pandemic.
"It is everywhere," Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday in a televised address. "It is very difficult for us to even contact trace."
Cases are growing so fast in some counties that investigations into new COVID-19 infections have been suspended.
"As we continue to witness record setting increases, Olmsted County Public Health Services does not have the capacity to continue conducting case investigations and contact tracing for every individual who tests positive for COVID-19," the southeastern Minnesota county said in a statement earlier this week.
It joins Itasca County, which made a similar announcement last week.
"If you are in a group setting, just assume that someone has COVID," said Kelly Chandler, department manager for Itasca County Public Health, which will focus its efforts on protecting high-risk settings such as schools, child care facilities and long-term care.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also at record highs with more than 1,700 hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients in Minnesota.
Bloomington-based HealthPartners said Thursday that 92% of its ICU beds were occupied, while 87% of its general medical/surgical beds are full. HealthPartners, which operates Regions Hospital in St. Paul, also imposed a no-visitor policy as other hospitals have done.
Apart from bed availability, hospitals are strained by the number of workers who can't report for duty because of a positive test or a high-risk exposure to someone infected. Under health guidelines, health care workers are expected to quarantine for 14 days after an exposure.
"Hospital beds might be open but we need to make sure we have the providers to give the care," Walz said.
Most people who need hospital-level care have underlying health conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity or congestive heart failure.
Many people who become infected have mild symptoms or don't experience any symptoms, but they still can be infectious to others. About 198,400 of those who were sickened are considered to be past the infectious stage and no longer need to be isolated.
Diagnostic laboratories reported 56,820 COVID-19 test results to the Health Department Wednesday, a one-day increase of 53%. More than 2.2 million Minnesotans have been tested.
Walz is scheduled to appear at an afternoon news conference today, marking the fourth consecutive today that he has made public remarks about the pandemic. On Wednesday, he imposed a four-week closure of bars, restaurants, fitness centers, organized sports and other places where people gather.
The restrictions, which begin Saturday, also limit social gatherings to household members only. Bars and restaurants will still be able to provide takeout and delivery services.
"Order out but make sure we are spending money locally in these businesses," Walz said. "But sitting inside right now with the amount of community spread we have, we are not going to get a handle on this unless we put a pause on it."
Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192