Minnesota on Tuesday reported a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 8.3% that is the highest in the vaccine era and a level of hospitalizations that hasn't been seen since the first shots against the coronavirus were administered in mid-December.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota reached 960 on Monday and included 254 people needing intensive care because of breathing problems or other complications. While that is below the record 1,864 hospitalizations on Nov. 29, it is the highest in 2021 and combines with patients with trauma and other illnesses to fill up 96% of available intensive care beds and 93% of non-ICU beds.
The escalating COVID-19 wave, fueled by a fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus, is a gut punch to public health leaders who hoped that vaccination progress would knock out the pandemic. More than 75% of eligible Minnesotans 12 and older have received COVID-19 vaccine since the first doses were provided Dec. 14-15 to a group of tribal leaders in Bemidji and nurses at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.
"Delta has changed the landscape for COVID-19," state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said.
The state on Tuesday reported 10 COVID-19 deaths and 7,942 more coronavirus infections, reflecting pandemic activity identified over the weekend.
The additions raise Minnesota's pandemic totals to 746,768 infections and 8,330 deaths.
Nine of the 10 newly reported deaths occurred in seniors — despite a vaccination rate above 93% in that age group — while one involved a Morrison County resident in the 40 to 44 age range.
Minnesota's rate of new infections for the past seven days is seventh worst among U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Midwest and Northwest states all seeing surges.
Infections in hard-hit states such as Florida and Louisiana have dropped to among the lowest in the nation, mimicking delta variant waves this year in India and England that peaked fairly quickly.
All Minnesota counties are in the high-risk range for viral transmission. In high-transmission counties, the CDC recommends mask-wearing in K-12 schools and public indoor settings.
Breakthrough COVID-19 cases in fully vaccinated Minnesotans have been increasing amid the rise of the delta variant, which is responsible for more than 99% of new infections in the state.
The rise could reflect waning immunity in the earliest vaccine recipients, which include seniors and people with underlying illnesses who tend to have weaker immune system responses to the shots.
The variant's emergence in mid-June came at a low point in the pandemic, when most mask mandates and social distancing restrictions were lifted in Minnesota.
The state reached a low of 90 COVID-19 hospitalizations on June 14.
Minnesota hospitals continue to report observational findings about COVID-19 patients that match recent vaccine research.
While vaccines might be losing some effectiveness at preventing any infections, studies show they remain protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Minneapolis-based Allina Health reported 249 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday, and that 77 (31%) were fully vaccinated. Among 51 patients receiving intensive care, six (12%) were fully vaccinated.
Allina has remained a leading provider of inpatient care in the pandemic, according to the latest federal data, with Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids treating an average of 72 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 adult patients per day in the first week of October.
Mercy led all hospitals in Minnesota that week — with Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Allina's Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, St. Cloud Hospital and Essentia St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth reporting the next highest numbers of COVID-19 adult patients.
Bloomington-based HealthPartners similarly reported that it cared for 424 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals over the past 30 days, and that 25% were fully vaccinated. Among the 74 requiring intensive care, 19% were fully vaccinated.