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Despite ICU surge, Walz says peak ‘still a ways off’

Health officials expected an acceleration in the need for intensive care beds like the one that’s happening this week.

But the fact that some hospitals have already moved into their surge capacity at this point in the curve of the disease is a concern, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

Health officials still expect the spread of the disease to peak in Minnesota later in June or into July.

“The peak is still a ways off — but there is a degree of uncertainty that comes in that prediction,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “And how we’re acting … that will have an impact on it.”

Malcolm said state health leaders are paying close attention to the daily intensive care counts. Wednesday marked the highest daily total of ICU beds in use since the beginning of the pandemic.

Officials have said Minnesota’s two-month stay-at-home order helped buy time for the state to secure supplies and prepare for the expected surge in hospitalizations and ICU cases.

Malcolm said recently those intensive care beds are filling up in the Twin Cities metro area. Officials said Tuesday that 87 percent of ICU beds in the metro area are now in use, much of that from COVID-19 cases, while other regions in the state still had available capacity.

Malcolm and other leaders continued to implore Minnesotans to stay vigilant and take the disease seriously. Counts of cases and deaths continue to climb even as Minnesota loosens more restrictions, potentially opening the door to greater community spread.

The state recently OK’d larger religious gatherings and agreed to let financially strapped restaurants and bars reopen for outside service, with capacity capped at 50 guests.

As more parts of the economy restart and people start to gather again in public places, there’s a worry that people let down their guard believing COVID-19 “‘only a problem for certain populations and not for me.’ … That’s just not the case,” Malcolm said.

While people living in long-term care continue to account for most of the deaths, Malcolm noted that 42 is the median age of those who’ve tested positive for the disease.

Community spread is continuing and cases are not as isolated as people believe, she added, noting that officials won’t know for two to three weeks the effects of the most recent moves to loosen curbs on businesses, religious ceremonies and other gatherings.