Minnesota COVID Cases See 'Truly Alarming Spike,' Hospitalizations Reach Highest 2021 Level

COVID-19 cases are seeing an alarming surge in Minnesota while COVID hospitalizations reach their highest level of the year in the state, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday.

Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 5,277 new cases and 43 new deaths. This increased the state's totals to 831,669 confirmed cases and 8,925 deaths. Minnesota hospitals are caring for 1,159 COVID patients, with 257 in intensive care units.

Malcolm stated the new case numbers were "extraordinarily high and concerning" in a briefing for reporters. She called it a "truly alarming spike," according to The Associated Press.

"The tragedy of this current spike in cases is that more than ever, we have the tools and the knowledge to minimize the impact of this virus," Malcolm said.

Vaccinations, staying home when sick, and wearing a mask in public are some of the tools, Malcolm said. She added that too many are still not vaccinated.

Seventy percent of the population 12 and over completed their vaccinations. The Associated Press reported that 67 percent of Minnesotans ages 5 and up have been given at least one dose.

A factor in the increase of cases seems to be "waning immunity," appearing around six months after vaccination, Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann, the health department's infectious disease director, said. This is occurring most in older patients, the group first to be vaccinated.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Minnesota, COVID, Hospitalization, Surge
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm discusses measures on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, to alleviate staffing shortages at health care facilities that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 surge. Minnesota COVID cases have had an alarming spike and hospitalizations have reached the highest level of the year. Grant Schulte/AP Photo

"Every day now we're seeing dozens of Minnesotans dying from an illness that they didn't have to get, and that is beyond heartbreaking for all of us doing this work," Malcolm said.

Given that hospitals are crowded and many people still aren't vaccinated, health officials are encouraging everyone to think carefully about their plans for the upcoming holidays, Ehresmann said. She noted that the Centers for Disease Control recently updated its holiday guidance. It is stressing the value of vaccinations; wearing masks in public indoor settings; avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated places; not hosting or attending gatherings if sick or showing symptoms; and delaying travel until fully vaccinated.

"Given the COVID blizzard that's hitting us in Minnesota, it's a really good idea to wear a mask even if you're fully vaccinated ... if a member of your household has a weakened immune system and is at increased risk of severe disease, or if someone in your family is unvaccinated," Ehresmann said.

Ehresmann recommended getting tested before holiday gatherings and travel — especially for anyone with symptoms or who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Testing and staying away from crowds before traveling is especially important for college students returning home, she said.

Malcolm said her staff was making "steady progress" toward reducing a backlog in new case numbers that developed over the weekend, when the number of lab reports coming in exceeded the department's capacity to process them. Separately, software problems that developed Monday, resulting in a net vaccination overcount of about 25,000, have been fixed and will be reflected in Thursday's numbers, she said.

Gov. Tim Walz announced earlier Wednesday that a second skilled-nursing facility had begun serving as an alternative care site as part of efforts he announced last month to relieve the pressure on hospitals.

A team of 14 Minnesota National Guard members and nine federal Public Health Service nurses will treat patients at Good Samaritan Society–Bethany in Brainerd. The site will accept up to 34 patients from central and northern Minnesota hospitals.

Last week, Benedictine St. Gertrude's in Shakopee made 30 beds available with help from the National Guard. Both facilities are taking patients who no longer require acute care but aren't well enough to go home.

COVID Surge, Minnesota, Hospitals
Pharmacy students from the University of Minnesota pose for a photo with a box of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at North Memorial Hospital on December 15, 2020 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Hospitals are now reaching their highest level of COVID hospitalizations in Minnesota as COVID cases spike. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images